The online culture of wrath

Not long ago Time magazine ran a cover story about Internet trolling with the alarming but not inaccurate cover blurb “We’re losing the Internet to the culture of hate.”

Trolling and other antisocial behaviors are widespread online. They can even be found in devout Catholic circles, though outright trollery and the “culture of hate” are perhaps more easily recognized and avoided than a more subtle but related phenomenon: what might be called a culture of wrath, of rage.

Wrath is one of the seven capital sins. Not all anger amounts to the sin of wrath; there is such a thing as righteous anger, as Jesus’ own example demonstrates.

For those of us who are not Jesus, though, righteous anger easily slides into the unrighteous kind — and the more we are provoked to anger and outrage, the likelier it is that we will do so.

How much we are provoked to anger and outrage — how much mental energy we give to topics that we find outrageous, scandalous and offensive — is thus an important concern. If there is one biblical exhortation most commonly transgressed on social media by otherwise sincere believers, I suspect it is these well-known, well-loved words of St. Paul:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

These words mustn’t be taken too absolutely. There is a place for naming and resisting evil, for alerting and warning others of danger, for outrage, for righteous anger. St. Paul does not mean that dishonorable, unjust, impure things, things worthy of condemnation rather than praise, shouldnever be thought of.

We cannot take Paul’s words seriously, though, without taking stock of just how much of our attention and energy we give to thinking about dishonorable, unjust, impure things that are worthy of condemnation, as opposed to honorable, just, pure things that are worthy of praise. Continue reading


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