the pleasure of anger

I just completed the first volume of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, a set I picked up a few weeks ago. The set is the first two volumes of three, the third just came out recently in hardback and isn’t yet included in the paperback version. The books are about 1000 pages each, so it is quite a task to read, but I found the reading so fascinating, I couldn’t put it down. Even the early letters,when Lewis was still a boy, reveal keen intellect and interesting insight (and breadth of reading).

The first volume also reveals the mind of a totally lost man. His conversion comes at the end of the first set of letters, but one has to say that he exhibits the pride and malice of a lost man in all his educated sophistication through the years prior to his conversion.

I’ll not debate the quality of his conversion, certainly he uses terms unfamiliar to us. It is quite clear that a real change took place in his life and he left us with many valuable works as a result.

In one of his letters, he makes an interesting observation about the pleasure of anger.

The pleasure of anger — the gnawing attraction which makes one return again and again to its theme — lies, I believe, in the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry.

 Then the other person is pure black, and you are pure white. But in real life sanity always returns to break the dream. In fiction you can put absolutely all the right, with no snags or reservations, on the side of the hero (with whom you identify yourself) and all the wrong on the side of the villain. You thus revel in unearned self-righteousness, which wd. be vicious even if it were earned.1

In light of my message last Sunday afternoon, “How Crucifying the Flesh produces the Fruit of the Spirit,” I thought this an apt quote. Too bad I didn’t see it in time to include it in my message.

The quote is from a letter to his ‘first friend’, Arthur Greeves on January 17, 1931. Lewis’ moment of conscious faith in Christ as the Son of God came on Sept 28, 1931. His conversion is described as a growth of understanding and acceptance of truth, coming first as an acceptance that there is a God, culminating with faith in Christ as described. So though he has not yet expressed conscious faith in Christ, I think he displays growing spiritual insight at this point.

What makes anger so delightful? The other person is all wrong, all black, and you are all right, all white. In effect, you become God, and are justified in your judgement of whomever it is that you rage against. It’s righteous wrath, not just righteous indignation!

It is this lust which makes violent movies so attractive. The movie develops sympathy for the lead character who may be a totally reprehensible individual, then leads you into a campaign of rage against his enemies, who are totally ‘evil’ because they oppose the ‘pure white’ hero.

The only antidote to this is humility of mind, is it not? The fruit of the Spirit which only comes by repentance and faith (crucifying the flesh). We must confess our rage, our wrath, our clamour, our malice, our evil-speaking, and submit heart, soul, and mind to the judgement of the Spirit of God.

Perhaps in our fundamentalist wars we should take a break and think this one over.



  1. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol.1, Walter Hooper, ed., pp. 950-951. []

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