Social scientists are pretty much agreed that what turns anger into rage is a sense of being disrespected, victimized, and powerless. And what turns rage into rioting is vulnerability to manipulation by people who use others’ hopelessness and sense of aloneness for their own ends.
Whether there is a basis in fact for it or not, rage yields fewer positive outcomes than anger does. Anger provides us energy to get things changed for the better, all the way from our dirty diapers in infancy to dirty politicians in our golden years. Rage provides us only an impetus to get even.
And now comes into this thinking, once again, religion. A wholly mean-spirited, incompetently self-serving, shockingly immoral terrorist group, ISIS, has made it into the history books instead of a garbage bin by denigrating a truly admirable religious prophet and unleashing a rage-driven rampage of rioting by people who should know better.
Men and women of genuine faith know that neither the memory of Muhammad nor the worship of the God he served needs refurbishing against the calumnies of people who know neither personage very well. “Defending” both — if any merely human being is adequate to the task at all — is best done in the form of a reminder that the one true God is as high above the destructive behavior of misguided humans as the heavens are above the earth.
That the reminder is being drowned out, however, by the noise of violent mobs tells us something important about what religion is capable of becoming, at Facebook speed. At its worst, religion holds up an image of God whose substance is the projection of the worst that is in the human spirit: jealous fear, festering anger, self-righteous judgmentalism, and an inner emptiness filled by feeding on the essence of things not one’s own.
At its best, religion holds up an image of God whose basis is the grateful acknowledgement of the best that is in the human spirit as a gift from the very One Whom it best resembles. A God truly worthy of human devotion is a God whose love casts out our fears, fulfills our needs, overcomes our loneliness, forgives our wrongdoings, and above all, uplifts us all — together — in hope.
There is a gentleness about a love like this. Its splendor is also riotous.