The most terrible force in the world may not be terrorist bombs or the nuclear weapons of North Korea or massive armies prepared for war. An argument can be made that the most sinister and deadly power in existence is righteous anger. Anger and hatred which is able to justify indiscriminate acts of violence against innocent people, such as the one which horrified the nation last week, may be senseless to the majority of the world’s population. However, for the person who detonates a bomb on teeming streets or the one who walks into a school or movie theater to unload an automatic weapon on unsuspecting crowds, righteous anger is the deep-seated emotion which permits and even encourages such cowardly acts.
It may well be that the aforementioned acts of terror were not committed by individuals with any faith background; nevertheless it is painful to acknowledge that righteous anger may have deep-seated roots in religion in general and the Judeo-Christian faith in particular. True believers who hate with righteous justification could be the most dangerous and deadly people on the planet.
A number of years ago biblical scholar and theologian Robert Jewett published a study entitled “The Captain America Complex” in which he traced two belief and behavioral patterns in scripture. One he titled the courtly and the other he called the prophetic. The courtly was usually promoted by people with power. Its approach toward those who differed in belief or culture was to convert or destroy. The prophetic was the opposite. It called for compassion for the stranger and tolerance for the other.
Jewett traced the influence of these positions in early American history, using Christian sermons as one of his major sources. When European settlers first arrived on these shores they looked upon the indigenous people as the mission field; they were out to “bring the gospel to the noble savages.” However, when the people native to this land resisted attempts at conversion, gradually they came to be described as demonic and subhuman. If people are considered less than human, if we can assume that God has already written them off, then the way is cleared for a manifest destiny mentality which sees the enslaving and slaughter of others as totally justified. One may righteously hate and do so with divine approval.
The Boston bomber and those who choose to kill indiscriminately may not be acting on any religious conviction; they may not profess any particular faith. However, the courtly strain is evident in their ability to view their victims not as people, but as a means to make a violent statement and a way to right a perceived wrong. They are the true believers who hate with no sense of guilt or conscience.
We who comprise the churches and religious communities of the world must be very careful what doctrines we espouse and what truths we teach. To write off any nation, race, religion or other definable group as being less than human or to paint them as unlovable to God is to participate in the most evil of lies. Righteous anger and hatred which carries divine sanction might be the most terrible force in existence. We are being faithful to our calling and faithful to our lord when we counter the courtly justification with the powerful prophetic word, proclaiming the God who so loves the world.