Friday 21 August 2020

Resentment: shun it - Gratitude: nurture it

It sometimes seems as if the primary purpose of the mainstream modern world is (when not inculcating fear) to cultivate resentment.

Resentment is, in my estimation one of the most evil of sins, because of its characteristic to grow - by feeding upon itself, by brooding upon grievances, by finding confirmation wherever it looks, and by stimulating others to behave in a way that apparently justified the resentment. Resenters are seldom popular with those they resent, so resentment tends to lead to grounds-for-resentment...

Well, let's just stop right there! Because in reality there are No grounds-for-resentment - and the idea that there are such grounds is a part of the sin-encouraging atmosphere of many social circumstances. For example, I have often heard it said that (given 'history') it is 'not surprising' or 'understandable' that - say - the Irish resent the English. Thus has soul-rotting resentment been celebrated and encouraged for generations*. 

The fact is that resentment is evil - so there are never Any grounds for it; and we should not speak as if it were a natural response to maltreatment.  Resentment may, like most other sins such as fear or lust, be 'inevitable' as an occurrence; but that does not make it Good. 

This is because the primary harm of resentment is upon the soul of him who resents.

The conviction of 'justified' resentment is a major cause of unrepented sin; exactly because the resenter regards the person who (he believes) has damaged him as being 'to blame' for his own resentment.

We see all around us extreme examples of 'victim groups' who have fallen into a seething, growing, self-excusing and apparently permanent state of sin; because of their continual inflammation-of and brooding-upon their (real or imagined, it makes no difference) persecutions.

And, of course, much of the modern world is long-term dedicated to creating resentment-groups of self-styled victims.

This systematic and deliberate encouragement of sin is actually even worse than exhibiting the sin itself - since encouragement (by propaganda and other forms of persuasion, by financial reward, by manipulating social status through awards and publicity etc) is a more deliberate, chosen, and strategically self-seeking activity than simply falling into the trap of self-justifying resentment.

If one were to add-together all the (billions of?) people in the world who are either self-identified members of a resentment/ victim group; with those whose self-imposed task is to encourage resentment and the perception of victim status (in politics, civil administration, charities and NGOs, corporations, schools and colleges, the arts and academia, the police and military, religions, health services and so on...) - then we come to a very high proportion of the people in the world who are in a chronic state of self-righteous, hence unrepented, sin.

(Selling resentment is big business, nowadays - with many addicted consumers.)

And because it is unrepented sin that leads most people to choose damnation and to reject the gift of Jesus; I think we must conclude that the powers of darkness have been extremely successful in corrupting this world to the point that (apparently) so many will opt for Hell, and despise any Heaven that requires them to drop their resentment.

I would say that, in general, damnation requires moral inversion - that is, the reversal of values: such that evil is seen as Good and vice versa. Mass resentment is a core example of value inversion. As is the fact that modern morality - and to such a high degree - is rooted-in the conviction that the sin of resentment is actually a virtue, and indeed defines virtue. To be a member of a victim group defined by active resentment is currently regarded as an actual moral plus!

The antidote to resentment is gratitude. First gratitude to God for creation and sustaining, and for loving us as a parent. Second gratitude to those who love us... usually people from our family, in the first place - but also true friends, if we have any.

But in general a life dominated by gratitude - properly directed - should be our ideal; repented when we fall short.

Gratitude (once established) also has the property of feeding-upon-itself, and finding grounds for more gratitude. So, while we are all sinners and will all lapse - we can always repent our resentments, and affirm our gratitudes - and that will suffice for Jesus Christ!

Because it is our great good fortune that He does not ask us for perfection in thought, word or deed; but only to acknowledge that which is Good - and that which is evil. And that is our third (and consummating) major cause for gratitude!

*Note: I am 1/4 Irish.


dearieme said...

Maybe Satan shouldn't represent temptation - maybe he should represent resentment.

Jacob Gittes said...

Brilliant and important.
It's very easy to start to resent the evil being imposed on the world by the Birdemic and BLM etc., and the coming poverty and starvation.

I am going to focus even more on what is in front of me, and my relationship with God and the few people I have in my life to love. And my dog.
And nature.
If one let's one attention be drawn to the suffering and despairing and the cruelty being done to the children, resentment would be hard to avoid.
Is anger at injustice and evil a separate category?
Anger does seem justified in the moment that one is impinged on by injustice. But anger passes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jacob - The reason I wrote this was that I regard the real sin as resentment - and I see it as an error (or deliberate misleading) to regard hate or anger as sins at the same level.

Jonathan said...

Perfectly said. (Or maybe I just think so because it articulates my thoughts on the topic so well.) One of your most important posts!

Joseph A. said...


lgude said...

I am a bona fide member of a contemporary gilt edged victim group. Whenever I mention it I get a little blank feeling inside that tells me that even though my conscious intent is just to acknowledge it as a fact of life I am aware that willingly or otherwise I am virtue signalling and it is better to not mention it. The late Merle Haggard in his song The Cost of Living sings,"I take the hand I'm dealt and play it as it lays." I don't know about others, but I'm always trying to improve it - I want to draw to an inside straight every time. So yes gratitude is the antidote, gratitude that whatever has happened to me - self inflicted or otherwise - has brought me to the experience of God's love. My cup runneth over.

Hari Seldon said...

Thank you for this. I find it interesting that Theodore Dalrymple, though he is not a Christian, also recognizes the power and corrosive influence of resentment:

"Resentment is the one emotion that can last a lifetime and will never let you down. All other emotions are fleeting and unreliable by comparison. I have tried hating someone for years, but found it impossible: hatred fades like the colors of pressed flowers. But resentment! It is the perfect solution to one’s failure in life."

Bruce Charlton said...

@HS - Yes, it is possible to say thta resentment is a bad thing, just from a hedonic perspective: it makes people miserable, so why persist in it? Yet in practice this has near zero traction in an atheist culture. TD is a kind of hedonic leftist (as are many on the 'secular right') - they advocate a rational pursuit of happiness. This is the basis of libertarianism, or common sense populist politcs etc. I speak from experience, since I used to be one of them (through the nineties into the early noughties, most of my publications have that basis) and knew many of the most prominent British examples of the species.

But we can see that when resentment is interwoven as the basis of a person's world-view, it is ineradicable in practice. It is striking that The West powerfully rejects political hedonism; and has been voting and acting to make itself systematically more miserable for many decades - fuelled mainly by resentment (masquerading as empathy and egalitarianism). That's a fact, so we should learn from it.