Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

fear, anger, and guilt



I suspect that in moments of complete honesty most of us recognize that fear, anger, and guilt are not the marks of mental and emotional well being. In other words, these emotions do not make us feel good. Despite that observation, a great many of us wallow in exactly these three states of mind constantly.


This incongruity is directly related to our religious tradition which promotes each of these painful feelings. The incessant religious harping on the subject of sin and God's anger is custom made to generate negative emotions. In fact, within our institutional religion, these very emotions are elevated to the level of virtues. The good people are said to be those who recognize and affirm their own guilt. who fear God, and who practice righteous indignation, the habitual condemnation of the majority of our fellowmen.


With this religious background, other facets of our society also honor the practice of fear, guilt, and anger. In the fields of media, politics, commerce, and entertainment the cultivation of these negative emotions are the mother's milk of everyday consumption. If it bleeds it leads is the watchword of our news stories. Absent the negativism of attack ads, politicians and political candidates are at a loss for words. Business concerns spend millions each day selling fear as the motivation for purchasing their product or services. The entertainment industry mirrors the media in recognizing and exploiting the fascination of the general public with fear, anger, and guilt. What is sold as gritty realism becomes just another element in a self fulfilling prophecy which predicts wars, degradation, and deprivation.


Most anyone will probably ask how we could possibly avoid fear, anger, and guilt given the world situation, with troubling and perplexing problems on every side. Preachers, politicians, pundits, and business men will all offer up their own ready made answers, most likely a simplistic and ill defined one. In reality, there is nothing simple about any of this, at least not simple in terms of being obvious or readily implemented. Basically, we are concerned here with how we view the world and our place in and contribution to that world. It involves our assumptions about ourselves, each other, and how we should interact. The shift in mental attitude which might lessen our fears and its resultant anger are likely dramatic and therefore uncomfortable.


For me, at least, the first step in seeking to tamp down my own personal fear and anger and guilt, is to begin to shut out the myriad voices which promote and benefit from these negative emotions. I don't have to submit myself and my mental health to news stories, sermons, and political tirades which are obviously designed to roil me emotionally. One can usually recognize from tone of voice and delivery style whether a political, religious, or media story is designed to play on my negative emotions rather than simply inform and educate.


Of course, all of these elements thrive on theatrics, so for the most part I just avoid paying much attention to any of them. To the extent I do listen I try to be very discerning, recognizing that each of these groups are trying to sell something to me and trying to exact a price from me. They may try to characterize their salesmanship as a public service intended for my benefit, but in truth they are simply trying to manipulate me emotionally to their benefit.


One has to rely on outside information in order to make informed decisions, so what can I do in that regard. There is no pat answer to this question. It is easier to see which sources of information are self serving than to identify reliable ones. For me two marks characterize a questionable information source. First, if a source religiously mirrors my own personal biases, it is probably a waste of time because it never challenges me to reconsider and improve my thought processes. Secondly, if a source is devoid of in depth research and logical analysis, relying on catcalls and "trash talk" as the primary element, it can't be much more than an attempted emotional trigger.


Even those information sources we allow into our minds will often generate negative emotions. In this, we need to be able to differentiate between cynicism and a thoughtful effort to address an important issue. Cynicism is always about finding faults outside ourselves, someone else to blame and diverting attention away from the finger pointers. Thoughtful problem evaluation should focus on presenting enough detail to actually stimulate discussion and rationally convince a hearer or reader. In other words, the sales message is rational and not solely emotional.


Beyond screening our information intake, how else can we manage our negative emotions? At this point we enter the domain of the psychologist and neuroscientists. One thing that most experts seem to agree upon is that our brain can be retrained by a concerted effort. This brain retraining can gradually change how we react to certain situations and what emotions will result. Just by consciously checking ourselves mentally when we feel a certain emotion rising up in response to some stimulating event or experience we can learn to react differently. It's just another way to express the old "count to ten first" rule. It's a matter of forcing ourselves, at least initially, to react rationally instead of with negative emotion.


Such re-learning exercises are painful and require great diligence. To work at all, these efforts must be preceded by the admission that negative emotions are bad for us and that we are not better people for having them. In other words we have to be willing to admit we are wrong in some of our long held and sacred assumptions about what is good. That's a big challenge for anyone. Big needs with potentially great solutions are just that way.