Reflections on the Lectionary: Matthew 5:17-37 – Anger
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Reflections on the Lectionary: Matthew 5:17-37 – Anger

This passage includes Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said of the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment…’”
This is a problematic teaching for many animal advocates, who are understandably angered by the terrible treatment of animals that results from human hardness of heart. Anger typically results from a sense of powerlessness, and we animal protectionists often feel quite powerless against the massive, well-financed forces that profit from animal abuse. Adding to our frustration is the self-righteousness and arrogance so often expressed by animal abusers.
Anger can be a poison in several ways. It can make us feel miserable and prompt some of us to abandon animal advocacy for the sake of mental health. It can undermine our efforts to advocate effectively for animals, because angry people only win the hearts and minds when the audience is already angry. If people are quite satisfied with how humanity treats animals, which is unfortunately largely the case, they will not receive an angry message from us warmly. Finally, anger often clouds our judgments, and it can lead us to say or do hurtful things that make it hard for others to believe that love and compassion have motivated us to help animals.

Denying our anger is not a solution. The anger is still there, and if we attempt to deny our feelings they will tend to manifest themselves in inappropriate ways. I think there are ways to respond to our anger constructively. First, we need to acknowledge the feeling and identify its sources – usually a combination of real mistreatment of animals and our own sense of powerlessness. Then, we can reflect on how the animal abuser sees the world. For many people, deep psychological fears, of which they are often unaware, contribute to animal mistreatment. To the degree that such fears contribute to animal abuse, I think people are forgivable. We should try to protect animals as best we can, of course, but there may be good reasons not to be angry at many if not most animal abusers. What are these deep psychological fears? I’ll explore that question next week. Then, I will offer suggestions on how we can channel our anger into effective activism. As I see it, those who stay angry might end up being worthy of the condemnation of which Jesus spoke. As we will see, Jesus showed us another way.

Go on to: Fears that Feed Anger
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