The current economic downturn has been called a he-session, since its effect on jobs has been largely in industries dominated by men, such as finance or construction. You can imagine a bunch of guys sitting around in their underwear, eating mac and cheese and playing with handguns. The sales of both are up.
Scott Nelson is writing a book called Crash: An Uncommon History of America’s Financial Panics. In an essay last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Nelson argues that American culture is shaped by the anger of such men, showing the contexts which gave us things like the Constitution, bankruptcy protection and the national guard.
And he thinks the current anger will result in better policing and improved intelligence networks among credit rating agencies to identify bad risks. (I feel safer already.)
“The American political system has been jiggered and rejiggered through two centuries of angry, impulsive violent men,” he writes. “Sometimes political institutions have been calibrated to deploy that violence, sometimes to redirect it, sometimes to squash it.”
Theologically this could be referred to as common grace—the way in which government and family, both institutions of God’s design, keep us from destroying ourselves.
But angry men are a problem in every sphere. And I don’t mean men as in the human kind but men as in the male kind. Workplace and school shootings, domestic abuse, road rage—all usually men. Where does the rage come from?
There is even a name for it: intermittent explosive disorder. An improperly functioning brain chemical supposedly affects 16 million of us, mostly young men.
I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t have it.
I can count on one hand the number of times I saw him angry in his whole life. When I start counting my own outbursts I have to take off my shoes, but I’m not an angry man either. My wife agrees, and she is in the best position to know. Neither are my three sons, for which I’m thankful.
Now I have a lot of sympathy for people with chemical imbalances. But quite frankly I don’t think 16 million of us have bad brains. I do think many of us have bad role models. And all of us have bad hearts.
I’m grateful for the good example my dad provided and its influence on me and ultimately my sons. But anger is rooted in our nature. We are selfish, rebellious and angry from the beginning. We are angry because we don’t get our way. You don’t have to teach a two year old to throw a temper tantrum.
And men in particular, emaciated by things they can’t control, respond by shooting things and yelling at everyone. The one gender-specific instruction that Paul offers parents is “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.”
We overcome this anger only through the grace of God. Dad had reason enough to be angry. The child of divorced, alcoholic parents, he lived on the streets for a while—the sort of person who often ends up in prison.
The gospel transformed him, however. And with the “new nature” that it promises, he was able to do what Romans 13 requires: casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light.
I don’t think it was always easy for Dad. Or for any of us, as far as that goes. But that’s how the gospel works. God had every reason to be angry with us. Instead he sacrificed his own Son, opening a stream of grace and forgiveness. To accept this is to be changed by it, little by little, day by day.
In the long run, it’s more powerful than Prozac.