In 1794, during the French Revolution, a state-sponsored religion arose called the Cult of Reason. Lasting for only about a year, that cult was replaced by the Cult of the Supreme Being, something promoted by Robespierre himself. These cults included festivals, altars, goddess figures, even temples. The aspiration was for a worship of the human means of knowledge and a dechristianization of France. Ultimately, after years of bloody streets, public executions, and all-out chaos, Napoleon Bonaparte officially banned the cults in 1802. Those few years left a lasting impression of the French Revolution and the limits of man’s ability to seek a utopia apart from the religious influences that create legitimate social structures.
Today, we are in what one might call an Age of Rage. A person would be hard-pressed to find a place of solace and peace in the national conversation today. The left and the right have knives at each other’s throats, and the victim is the common man. Anger reigns supreme, and the more rage you express, the more notice is given your voice.
Sadly, numerous Catholic pundits have decided to participate in the “anger games” and point the finger at the Church herself, as if fomenting hatred for the Body of Christ and her leaders is going to reform the Church. The necessity of reform is unquestionable in the wake of sex scandals and massive drops in Mass attendance. I can completely understand the frustration. However, some folks would rather scream fire, and use generalizations to find more victims to point at, than do what Christ asked us to: make disciples, and to do it through his example.
The question is, how do we evangelize in an Age of Rage? I thought I might offer three ideas to help share Christ’s message and invitation to a share in the divine life he offers.
Focus on What You Can Actually Accomplish
The Stoics were dead right to teach that there are certain things within our control and certain other things that are not. The best and most effective way to live life is to focus on the things that we can change in our own daily lives. We often are so focused on the macro-narratives of declining faith memberships or the state of politics that we forget the person who lives next door might simply want some company. Too often, we fixate on the world’s problems and forget our own communities and families. If you are frustrated about something in the Church or in politics, write your bishop, write your representatives, and make sure to vote in your local elections. But understand that ultimately, unless you are in a position of influence, you will do much more by focusing on your prayer life, your families, and your neighbors. In other words, be the change you wish to see. Or, as Mother Theresa put it, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Everything starts there.
Hate Breeds Hate, Love Breeds Love
Growing up, I always wanted to be like the fighters I saw in movies. I wanted a cause I would be willing to give my life for. By the grace of God, I have found that cause in the name of Jesus Christ, and the challenge of living by his teachings. However, how we Christians defend the faith is too often through violent rhetoric or pointing out real and perceived “enemies.” Leading with anger, righteous or not, is typically not the way Christ fought back. Sure, everyone points to the flipping of tables (the action of Jesus, alone, by the way), but we would do a great disservice to the Church and the culture if we put all of our focus there and not on the cross.
One of the greatest fighters of all time, Bruce Lee, knew that if he played by the rules of hatred for another, he would never win the real fight. Rather, he led with love, and that never made him any less of an opponent. In the end, hate breeds more hate, and oftentimes the breeding ground is our own souls. We must lead with love, fight with love, let love be the driving force for the work of evangelization. If we only play the “us vs. them” card, or engage by the rules of the culture wars, we will simply be drowned out in the cacophony of rage.
Meet Rage with Laughter
There is a great story about the journalist G.K. Chesterton and his difficulty in exiting a motorcar. Due to his colossal stature, it was a real chore for him to get in and out of a vehicle. His driver once told him to get out sideways, to which Chesterton replied, “I have no sideways.” When people get worked up about politics or the culture, or want to fight back when we mention Christ, the most effective and calming balm is laughter. The thing about medicinal laughter, however, is that it only works if we are willing to laugh at ourselves. There is authentic freedom in the ability to do so because it tells the world that we are untouchable in this realm because we exist in another.
Chesterton believed in a paradoxical structure of the universe, and one thing it reveals to us is how often rage is evidence of a person’s inability to produce an argument. Moreover, while there are currently legitimate matters with which to take issue—even to the point of entertaining rage—too often our compulsions to see personal affronts everywhere has to do with mirrors we’d rather not acknowledge.
Even worthy rage, though, is subject to the realities of what we can and cannot do to bring about lasting change. If we are unable to discern something as fundamental as that, we become as infants before the greater cosmos, under which our nerve-bending, vein-popping, harshest anger is but a whisper.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take part in a legitimate argument. On the contrary, the best apologists are those that can both growl or laugh, applying either as needed. We must strive, however, to heed St. Peter’s words: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Hope is the antidote to rage. It requires a willingness to be light, even unto laughter. In an Age of Rage, hope seems lost; yet our hope is what sustains us, and keeps us free.
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” wrote Emily Dickinson,
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.