Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Outrage Addiction: Its harm on the spiritual life and on the mission of the Church

Our main goal in this life should be to get to Heaven and take as many souls with us as possible.  We not only have to learn our faith and teach it to others (Mt 25:14-30); we have to know how to share the Gospel with others -- with words, and without (1 Cor: 13).  Each of us puts a face on our Catholic faith, for good or for bad, whether it is in person, or online (anonymous or not). We need to convey the hope we have within; not a sense of anger, bitterness, hopelessness and despair.  We must, always and everywhere, strive, by the grace of God, to be blameless amidst adversity and persecution (1 Peter 3:8-17).  This is how we imitate Christ.  Being in a chronic state of outrage over this or that is not an imitation of Christ; it is a manifestation that we have yielded to a rather stealthy form of concupiscence. At it's root, is a lack of faith, hope and charity.

The outrage-addicted will be outraged that I dared to say this, thinking I don't see what is going on around me. They may even think I don't care.  What they don't know is that I speak about outrage addiction as one who was once afflicted with this anti-virtue, so I am speaking from experience.

Let's look closer, but first, read the scope I've defined for this subject in the context I am using. It's explained at the bottom of the post 1

What is outrage addiction?

Outrage addiction, which some refer to as outrage porn (a term I prefer not to use2) is where we seem to get our "fix" by getting fired up over something. By it's nature it is addicting, so the more we get through reading, watching, and discussing, the more we seek.  Anyone can suffer with it for a period of time. Some eventually pass through and are purified of it, while others seem stuck there for many years.

Those who pass through the first phase of outrage addiction might suffer from a second phase where they become outraged with everyone else who is chronically outraged (think: ex-smoker syndrome).  Others skip the first phase and have their only experience with it in the second sphere.  In reality, such behavior changes nothing.

In either case, outrage addiction becomes a sport, giving rise to adrenaline. Perhaps that is what makes it so addicting.  Often, the outrage-addicted yield to imprudence by shooting first and asking questions later. Things are seen in black and white and the subjective becomes objective for them.

Outrage Addiction in Catholics

A Catholic who begins to take his or her faith seriously after a period of lukewarmness, takes interest in learning about the faith, so errors and abuses begin to stand out. Outrage swells at the evil now visible.  Bad theology being pedaled from some pulpits, and liturgical abuses are some of the first things that become apparent (and with newer priests trained better, this is gradually fading).  In other cases, it's not even evil that causes the outrage, but an overly narrow view of what is right and wrong in areas where the Church allows a range of freedom.  This is not a problem with just one group.  Some mistakenly believe that only traditionalists can be "rigid," when there are many examples of non-traditionalists, and progressives, worthy of the description.  It's not uncommon to find priests, or even lay people who went through seminaries in past decades, walking around today still bruised from experiences with rigid types who hindered them from gathering to pray a Rosary.  A woman I know left a Catholic choir she sang with for years after the rigid priest forbid her to keep a Rosary wrapped around her hand as she sang - a practice that went back to her childhood. Mind  you, she wasn't praying it during Mass; rather, holding it gave her comfort.

Sometimes, these kinds of experiences give rise to outrage, but we should never remain there, praying instead for such people and handling it as we would any other kind of persecution - with grace and never ceasing to love and pray for those who offend us.

The Spiritual Damage of Persistent Outrage

By the grace of God, some come to see  that the anger within is consuming them to the point that this chronic state of outrage is leading to persistent disquiet and is hindering their spiritual growth.  Outrage-addicted persons are stunted spiritually by virtue of the fact that so much energy is spent looking outside of themselves, that there is no time or wherewithal left to look inward.  It also puts a strain on relationships within the family and among friends. Their relationship with God suffers as the outrage becomes an idol unto itself.  The outrage-addicted seem to believe that the power of outrage is greater than the power of God to move hearts and souls.  One clue is when more time is spent reading and discussing things to be outraged over than there is invested in prayer over those things, and for the people involved in them.  A cloistered monk or nun does more to move hearts of stone through their sacrifices and intercessions without being aware of anything to be outraged over.

Outrage Addiction Harms the Mission of the Church

The outrage-addicted can push people far from Christ and the Church, and they won't necessarily know it. Rather than bring others to Christ as witnesses to the hope that is within, those in this state of disquiet push others away through their bitterness and abrasiveness. Most of the time they have no idea they are causing harm because their outrage is motivated by wanting to see a good outcome. The problem is that the outrage it is not well moderated.  This is corrosive on both the soul and on the Church.

It's true that there are right times to be outraged, but it is not right to be outraged all of the time.  In this sense, such souls are stuck in a state of spiritual immaturity.  Those filled with the graces of faith, hope, and charity do not have such habitual manifestations of outrage.  It seems the passage of the Gospel the outrage-addicted invoke the most is Jesus flipping tables (Mt 21:12-13); yet, we know Our Lord did this only once.   Moreover, Jesus did not tell us to imitate Him by flipping tables; He told us to imitate Him in meekness and gentleness (Mt 11:29).  Incidentally, there is so much more to the table-flipping incident than people realize, and the richness of that discussion is lost in the way it is used and abused. But I digress and that is for another post.

The emergence from outrage-addiction

When one sees the corrosiveness on the self and to the mission of the Church caused by persistent outrage, they are still fully aware of the evils around them, but have begun to moderate their reaction with a more careful approach to discussion. They also spend more time in prayer and in deeper spiritual affairs, the fruit of which is an increase in charity on many fronts. It is this charity that draws others to Christ like a magnet.

The realization is there that it is not a battle against men, but one against powers and principalities (Eph 6:12).  For a time people emerging from this chronic state of outrage may feel as if something is wrong with them. They may think they are not fulfilling their duty as Catholics to get all riled up, summoning adrenaline like a warrior about to engage in battle.  In reality, the Holy Spirit is leading them in a different direction and into spiritual warfare, not with others, but with themselves. The battlefield of a Christian is within the self where sin and impurity are rooted out, creating a purified conduit for the Holy Spirit to work.  This is when those emerging from a state of chronic outrage begin to drift from old relationships with those they once commiserated with in order to form new relationships with others who are not outrage-addicted and truly focused on bringing others to Christ through the exercise of the virtues.

At this point, abrasiveness gives way to better forms of communication aimed at winning others. The understanding comes that everyone has a free will and it is through use of reason that we must proceed. This takes patience like that of a farmer who tills the soil, plants the seed, waters it, thins the sprouts, weeds delicately at times, and then waits.

Chronic outrage is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit and it opens a door to diabolical influence, making it more difficult to hear that still, small voice of our guardian angel.  Satan is a great imitator who knows how to mix nine parts of something holy to just one part of something evil in order to bring about corruption.

Outrage over the outrage-addicted

There's nothing worse than an ex-smoker, so the saying goes.  When one emerges from a chronic state of outrage over manifest evil, sometimes they can fall into the trap of being outraged over the outrage-addicted.  For some, it is the only outrage they will ever experience and it is still damaging to their own spiritual life and to the mission of the Church.

The most ineffective way to change the outrage-addicted person is to show outrage over what they do.  Reasoning with them when outraged is like trying to stabilize heat when a log first begins to burn.  Challenging them publicly puts more fuel on their fire (Proverbs 9:7-12). The best approach in dealing with the outrage-addicted is to simply ignore them and allow them to feel the burn of their own bile.  It helps to pray for them too. They need to have an epiphany.  For the outrage-addicted online, clicking their links and giving them traffic only rewards their behavior.

People often want to publicly address the outrage-addicted because they feel the mission of the Church is being harmed by the behavior, and they are right. But, this must be countered without rewarding them with online traffic. One way to counter that damage is to address the issues without discussing the people behind them.  This takes faith - faith that God will lead prudent souls to words of wisdom rather than entertaining folly.   We cannot force others to stop reading the outrage -addicted, but we can appeal to them without giving those responsible the attention they desire.  The outrage-addicted want to force change through their outrage and abrasiveness, but this does not respect the fact that God gives to all a free will.  We are commanded to spread truth with charity, not to defend Jesus by cutting off the ears of those who offend Him.

Self-help for the outrage addicted.  

If you suspect that you suffer from outrage addiction, the best thing you can do is to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in silence.  Do this especially when you are angry and bitter over something happening in the world or in the Church.  Ask Jesus for help in discerning, mindful that all those problems will still be there whether you discuss them or not.  Scripture tells us not to fret because of the wicked (Psalm 37).

Pray about those things and people who cause you the most angst.  Prayer is powerful.  Pray the Rosary and other devotions and remind yourself that you can put your burdens on the shoulders of the Lord, not carry them yourself.  Where your words and outrage can change little, God can move hearts with prayers and fasting.

Read Scripture - not just some of it, but all of it. Read daily.  We cannot take one part without the whole.  Truth proclaimed without charity is out of harmony with the Gospel.

Read wholesome spiritual material like that of St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, Spiritual Warfare by Lorenzo Scupoli, and other time-tested classics.  It's okay to learn about Church history, but where it gets dangerous is when we dwell in things that happened rather than taking each day as it comes.  It's good to learn the catechism and Church documents so we can grow and propose the faith to others; but do not learn it to throw it in the face of others.  Read daily from something aimed at changing yourself, not others, even if only for 15 minutes.

Discuss your anxieties and anger with a good Confessor or spiritual director, just make sure you find one that is not himself, outrage-addicted.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is manifest in us to others when we have the peace in Christ within amidst a barrage of artillery coming from every direction

- This post was updated from it's original text, with minor corrections and clarifications; and, the suggestion of talking things over with a Confessor.

(1) Scope of Discussion

My scope for this post excludes things like the priest sex abuse scandal.  The thoughts I'm tossing out here do not apply to how we should handle such grave matters which require immediate and decisive action. If we become aware of such an abuse, we need to report it; if we become aware of some liturgical abuse on another continent, we have a choice to discuss it or not. See the difference?  My discussion here is over things we have a choice to talk about and which are often outside of our control, usually do not have direct impact on us, and do not involve sex abuse.

The scope of my thoughts on outrage addiction concerns habitual or chronic outrage we see online in Catholic circles in everything from liturgical matters to politics.  This is not the periodic outrage we all feel now and then.

The scope of this discussion also excludes Catholics in open dissent.  We can talk all day about how their dissent on issues in the realm of sexual morality harms the Church, but that is a no-brainer.  So, I am talking here mainly of  Catholics who have varying spiritualities, and who embrace the teachings of the Church, but who differ somewhere in their understanding of something.  We need to keep in mind that not all erring Catholics are open dissenters. Some, perhaps most,  stray from truth because they were wrongly taught by people they trusted making it difficult to uproot, or their underlying assumptions are incomplete or in error, unbeknownst to them.  We will be less outraged if we make this kind of presumption about others, rather than presuming they are engaging in willful dissent.  Let God sort it out since he did not gift us with reading souls.

(2) Use of the word, "porn." 

I prefer not to use terms reserved for sexual matters for things that are non-sexual.  This is a popular trend today to use words like, "porn," as a substitute for addiction.  Pornography by it's nature is addictive, which is why people have gone to describing various behaviors with it.  As witnesses of Christ, I think we can do better than to follow such pop-cultural norms.  People will understand us just fine if we use the word "addiction." 

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