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Unrighteous anger

James Cary

As a general rule, I have, what Bertie Wooster would call a 'Sunny disposish'. It's one of the reasons I've always admired GK Chesterton, William Wilberforce and CS Lewis. They were all famously cheerful souls that most people were pleased to have around. As such, they were all potent public witnesses to the Christian faith.

According to some schools of psychotherapy, this general bonhomie would be put down to all kinds of neuroses and insecurities. The fictitious but believable Chandler Bing in Friends used humour as a defense mechanism. Comedians are often thought to do the same, drawing attention away from some crushing loneliness or frustration. Not me. My desire to make people laugh is based on the fact that I like it when people laugh.

People tend to assume that cheerfulness goes hand in hand with optimism. The two are no strangers for sure, but it is possible to skeptical, or even cynical, and good-humoured. For soldiers, this is a permanent state, as I learned when writing Bluestone 42 for BBC3. And it's no coincidence that the show was also very popular with medics, who share a similar 'gallows humour'.

I may be cheerful, but I am also cynical. I have very little confidence in institutions of any kind (as I explore in my book Death by Civilisation). Nor do I believe that free markets solve all our problems. Neither the State nor the Market deliver the one thing we need most: love.

So I think almost all politics for the foreseeable future, from the national to the international is, at best, futile. Moreover, the national and international economy, based as they are on putative values of imaginary money that will be spoken into existence by some yet-to-beelected government, resemble a gigantic unsustainable Ponzi scheme. In short, we're all going to hell to in a heavily-indebted handcart that will be burned up before the last payment has been made on it. On the upside, this will probably happen before any serious ecological disaster we've been promised. Is that enough cynicism to make the point?

But I remain cheerful because I am an optimist. After all, I'm a Christian. How I can't be anything but cheerful? God is in heaven. Christ is on his throne. He's not pacingaround heaven nervously, hoping he's done enough. He has sat down, having done everything necessary for our salvation. And he's sent his Spirit to do his work on earth, along with the occasional angel. Sooner or later, Christ will call time and all death, pain, suffering and mourning will be no more. Now that's a reason to be cheerful, surely?

And yet, the public stance of many Christians I see on Twitter and Facebook is a permanent state of rage. Anger at the wrong kind of politicians and commentators, hatefilled fury at bankers or businesses, spiteful jokes at someone who pokes their head above the parapet or swims against the cultural tide. At best, one could often describe it as graceless. It regularly tips over into self-congratulatory- righteousness and from there can degenerate into vitriol and bile, masquerading as wit.

Social media is a bear pit. Emote or question received wisdom in the wrong way and you will invoke all kinds of comments from people who really should know better. It's an arms race of anger. Fail to show sufficient respect for cultural icons of the day that meant so much to people growing up, or represent some abstract noun everyone's really into and you will be e-walloped, told to check your privilege, or accused of some extreme political ideology that was responsible for genocide. Christians do all of these things.

As you can probably tell, I don't like it.

Jesus was angry with the money-lenders in the temple. I get that. He was spectacularly rude to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs to their faces (you had to be there). But simmering rage is not one of the primary characteristics of his earthly ministry.

Yes, there are Psalms of rage and an entire book of lament. Jesus calls people snakes. The apostle Paul does suggest the Judaizers cut off their meat and two veg. But these are the exceptions, surely? The Bible is a book of deep joy. No wonder following Jesus is not all that attractive to those outside the church. Christians seem every bit as angry as everyone else, with the added streak of self-righteousness. Let us not forget that Jesus was fun to be with and that as far as pain, misery and suffering are concerned, he's got this.