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Righteous anger

5 October 2009

A couple of days ago one of my Pagan blogging friends wrote The Stroppy Rabbit:

It has long been observed that some Odinists have right-wing tendencies (though by no means all, as the Heathens against Hate campaign demonstrates). The other two Pagans described above may not be Odinists, however.

There is no place in Paganism for far right politics. Pagans are supposed to be tolerant and inclusive.

She was commenting on the discovery that a number of pagans appeared on a membership lists of the right-wing British National Party.

My first thought was that a number of Christian clergy had also been on the list — we all have them.

But what struck me most about it was the final sentence: pagans are supposed to be tolerant and inclusive.

I wondered about that supposition, and whether it applied to Christians. I can’t think of any Christian writings in which tolerance and inclusivness are held forth as Christian virues. Well, not quite; “inclusiveness” and “inclusion” seem to have appeared recently in Anglican discourse, at least in blogs and newsgroups. But I don’t find tolerance and inclusiveness extolled as virtues in the Bible, or in the writings of the Church Fathers.

Not that I can thing of anything inherently wrong with tolerance and inclusiveness. They are a bit like “relevance”, that previous great virtue extolled by many Western Christian writers back in the 1960s. And it always raises the question, “relevance to what?”

Concerning tolerance, Father Thomas Hopko once said,

Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God’s creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence.

Tolerance can be good or bad, depending on what it is you are tolerating. Is tolerance a virtue when Western firms are dumping toxic waste in Africa and poisoning African children? Should such things be tolerated?

But when tolerenace means, as Father Tom says, that we coexist peacefully with people whose manners and ideas differ from our own, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. It just seems a bit wishy-washy as a Christian virtue.

Then I read the Gospel reading for last Sunday, preparing to preach on it.

Luke 6:31-36  (Gospel)

31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
32 But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

It struck me that that was calling us to go beyond being tolerant and inclusive. Tolerance and inclusiveness mayt be pagan virtues, they may be virtues in the eyes of the world, but the corresponding Christian virtues are love and patience. Tolerance and inclusiveness might be marks of bourgeois decency, and as Christians we are not called to be merely decent, but to be good.

And it goes beyond that, too. We are not called merely to be good, but to be holy. That is why we are given the examples of the saints, those who have in some ways gone beyond mere goodness to holiness.

And then this morning I read what Father Stephen Freeman had to say about righteous anger: “There may be a good anger – but in the midst of the sea of anger in which we now dwell – it is hard to find.”

We are called not merely to be decent, but to be good. We are called not merely to be good, but to be holy. Perhaps, as Fr Stephen says, there can be a good anger, a righteous anger, even though he has never seen it. But can there be such a thing as a holy anger? On this topic, the rest of his post is well worth reading.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 October 2009 8:00 am

    Hi Steve
    This is so much what we are struggling with in the Methodist Church in SA (informally). I agree with what you are saying, but I am battling to join the dots! I think that you are saying that love is a good or holy progression from inclusion and patience from tolerance. Is that it? What do you see as being the important differences?

    • 5 October 2009 4:11 pm


      I think Mat 5:20 applies. It’s not really a progression, but rather a kind of qualitative jump.

  2. 5 October 2009 8:29 am

    Hi Steve,

    This is a very well written post. You’ve struck a cord with me.

    As I’m thinking I’m wondering how we relate this to Christ in the temple (Matthew 21), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15) and Paul and Peter (Galatians 2). Oh, and John’s last 2 epistles.

    I reckon it comes down to Biblically appropriate tolerance (yes, I made that up)? The measure of our conduct as we grapple with the distinction between 2 John 10 – 11 and 2 Timothy 4:2.

    Please could you post this to Thandanani as well. I’m sure others will want to discuss this.

    • 5 October 2009 4:13 pm


      For Christ in the temple, see some of the comments in Fr Stephen’s post. I think they are quite illuminating.

  3. Fr. Andrew permalink
    5 October 2009 1:14 pm

    I’m fascinated that paganism should be tolerant and inclusive. Original paganism certainly was anything but, in which the tribe was essentially above all, and the god was primarily conceived of as a kind of private chieftain.

    This seems to be a sort of liberal protestantizing of paganism. I’m having a hard time seeing the Viking worshipers of Odin as terribly ecumenical, even on political grounds alone.

    • 5 October 2009 4:19 pm

      Fr Andrew,

      That’s why I wondered about the supposition, and who does the supposing. Paganism is pretty inclusive in the sense that it includes a wide variety of religions and expressions of religions that don’t have all that much in common. But I’m not so much concerned about what pagans are supposed to be, but rather with what Christians are called to be, and I’m pretty sure that it’s to go beyond bourgeois decency, though very often we don’t even make it that far.

  4. jdalton3au permalink
    7 October 2009 7:30 am

    Great post.

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