by Ricardo da Silva SJ
The Winter Living Theology 2018 series by Fr Bryan Massingale addressed and reflected upon the social and religious impact of racism and the duty that we have, as people of faith, to work towards healing this great wound in and of our society. Towards the end of the series, Fr Massingale said something which got me thinking seriously about my complicity in some of the most serious injustices of our country – and not just when dealing with racism.
He reminded us of the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas on anger. According to Aquinas, anger is not always a sinful attitude, as we might like to think.
We tend to shy away from anger and criticise angry people for being unable to control their emotions and not dealing civilly with their anger. According to Aquinas, although anger can be sinful it can also be a good and necessary thing. For him, the passion of anger can lead to Christian virtue. He goes further to say that if we do not get angry especially in the face of injustices, then there is something seriously wrong with us. Fr Massingale referring to Aquinas, reminded us that “anger is the passion that moves the will to justice.”
As I listened to Joanne Joseph, 702 talk-radio host, talking to Postbank CEO, Mark Barnes, I was reminded of the continuing aptness of Aquinas’ reflection. She was interviewing Barnes concerning the latest SASSA payments debacle, where the poorest, most disadvantaged people of our country were left unable to draw their monthly social grants, a pitiful sum that is for many their sole source of income. This was due to “systems’ delay issues” and “industry standard timeouts”, as Barnes nonchalantly reported.
As the interview progressed, Joseph became more and more angry. Especially when responding to her interrogation, Barnes retorted: “What do you expect me to say?”. In effect, he was saying that the problem was outside of his control and that he was not responsible for the glitch in the system. By doing so, he failed to accept responsibility for the serious consequences that resulted from his company’s failure to adequately prepare for the new card system which they had put in place.
Joseph’s anger is apposite in showing the importance of anger, especially when, as Aquinas was astute to see, it pertains to injustice. She was aghast and indignant at Barnes’ seeming lack of compassion and empathy. In contrast to Barnes’ privileged position, Joseph said that SASSA beneficiaries were “totally debilitated by what has happened to them” and were unable to simply return to pay points at a later date, as they had been asked. She pleaded for “a change in attitude” calling him “to treat people with respect” and to apologise in a “sincere” and “penitent” manner.
Her anger led me to ask: “where have I perhaps avoided what should have been a public display of outrage in order to save face?”
Perhaps, it’s time for us all to show a little more anger and a little less restraint when faced with the opportunity to call injustices to light and make a real difference in the lives of the voiceless in our society.