Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cherishing Anger, Anger in Public Discourse

Breakpoint recently re-ran two commentaries by Mark Earley about anger and public discourse. I referenced both commentaries back in my own post on the subject back in May.

With my passion about the subject of public discourse and the prodding of Breakpoint re-running of these two commentaries, I've decided to draw attention to these two excellent commentaries again here on my blog.

First, Cherishing Anger: A Bee in the Mouth:

A respected journalist begins an article about the president with a statement of undiluted hatred. A prestigious Christian essayist takes every opportunity to rail publicly against Christians more conservative than she is. A famous conservative columnist uses a sexual epithet to describe a presidential candidate at a national conference.

Are these isolated incidents? Or do we have what Peter Wood calls a “national epidemic of anger”?


Now, anger is nothing new in American culture and especially in American politics. We have all lived through periods of partisan rage, name-calling, and spite. In that respect, Jonathan Chait, Anne Lamott, and Ann Coulter, whose cases I just described, were following an established tradition. Yet Wood senses something different about this “New Anger” that these people and others are practicing—and I think he may be on to something.


If you doubt it, look around. Read a bumper sticker or a comic strip. Pick up a newspaper or a magazine. Although Wood cites prominent cases of New Anger on both the right and the left, he sees a September 2003 article in the New Republic as “pivotal.” That was the article that Jonathan Chait began with these words: “I hate President George W. Bush.”

Wood comments, “Chait is a serious political commentator, not a barroom drunk.” But Chait and others like him have legitimized a new way of talking about culture and politics that once would have seemed more at home in the barroom.

Read (or listen to) the whole commentary over at at

And, second, Anger in Public Discourse: The Rules of Engagement

As I mentioned on yesterday’s broadcast about Peter Wood’s new book, A Bee in the Mouth, anger has become the new norm for public discourse today. Just think about any arguments you have had—or heard—lately about the war in Iraq, global warming, gay “marriage,” or abortion.


As I have thought about this cultural trend, I have been reminded of a famous speech by Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning” [...]. In it, she discusses the three pillars of a classical education: fact-gathering [...], logic, and rhetoric.

We can apply this classical way of learning to our own discourse: Gather facts, apply logic, and then use effective principles of communication.


But this does not get us quite far enough in this postmodern world. How do we engage with others who may have tossed logic to the curb long ago?

For starters, we might look to Jesus Himself as a model.


Jesus was not merely trying to win an argument, nor was His main goal even diffusing anger. He was trying to win the hearts and minds of those who might listen.

The Pharisees had come with an agenda, and their anger, like the anger of so many around us today, was merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Of all people, Jesus could have shown a judgmental attitude. Unlike us, He is, after all, a righteous judge. But instead through a humble heart, and an implicit question, Jesus gently exposes the real issue.

You know, if our priority is winning over our opponents, instead of merely beating them in an argument, God can give us grace to do the same as Jesus did.

Read (or listen to) the whole commentary over at at

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