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Resentment and theology

Resentment is a pattern of desire such that someone is much more occupied with the obstacle to their project than with the project itself. The sign of grace is when someone finds that their desire has been reformed, so that what had seemed like an obstacle becomes relatively indifferent, and they are ever freer to open up a new and creative project. The difference is that between the pattern of desire which creates suicide bombers and that which creates ministers of the Gospel.

~ James Alison, On Being Liked, 130.


  1. roger flyer wrote:

    Good advice for aspiring young apocalypticists.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  2. kenny chmiel wrote:

    If anyone understands that first paragraph you can unlock mysteries. I can’t make heads or tails of it.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  3. Chris Grataski wrote:

    there’s only one paragraph

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Good advice for anyone pursuing a “project.”

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  5. Bruce Hamill wrote:

    Because we get our desires from our neighbours (rather than them being self-originated) we tended to become rivals with our neighbours for the object of those desires and thus resent the presence of the neighbour-as-obstacle such that we lose sight of the object of desire in favour of the neighbour who becomes our rival/obstacle.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  6. roger flyer wrote:

    Don’t be jealous of your neighbor’s deal. Die. Live.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  7. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    Or we could say that resentment is the animosity you begin to harbor against anyone to whom you credit the wrong-doing of keeping you from attaining what you believe you should have. Allison’s wording is better for using language that allows for the object of resentment to be a trait or limitation in one’s own self. As someone with a significant visual impairment resentment would be me being angry at how my vision has prevented me from getting jobs I would otherwise be qualified for. The other response is to just keep looking for work where my vision is not an impediment to getting hired and remembering there are plenty of equal opportunity employers. In case it needs to be said we should remember that plenty of resentment is not other-directed. That’s what I like about the ambiguity of Allison’s construction, it is more ambiguous so as to be more clear. :-) Resentment is never about the object that supposedly obstructs our path to the desired subject, it’s the disposition we take toward that object regardless of anything inherent to the thing or person as such. At the risk of getting all pop culture, resentment is Woody resenting Buzz Lightyear as representing what he has lost. Buzz in the first Toy Story has no idea that he represents anything. Resentment can be nourished apart from its targets even being aware of it. Ergo terrorists and, dare I add it, bloggers. :)

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  8. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    pardon the spelling errors there.

    Monday, December 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    I like the Woody and Buzz reference.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  10. dan wrote:

    Okay, so if a person desires abundant life for all (and not just for some) but other people are actively engaged in that which is death-dealing in order to hoard abundant life for themselves, is it an expression of resentment to resist those people in order to serve the God of Life? Is such resistance the activity of “suicide bombers” or “ministers of the Gospel”? Both? Neither?

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    I don’t think Alison would say so. Neither would I.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  12. roger flyer wrote:

    What about the Sam Childers, machine gun preacher in southern Sudan?

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  13. dan wrote:

    I figured you wouldn’t think so, but was curious about Alison. (I also wanted to blur the lines of this discussion a bit.)

    As for me, Moltmann long ago convinced me that resistance should be an expression of love for both “the oppressed” and “the oppressors” as the context of oppression dehumanizes both parties and resistance is an offer of liberation to both. The call “Let my people go!” offers salvation to Pharaoh just as much as it offers salvation to the Hebrew slaves.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I think that’s what it is for Alison as well, who writes as gay Catholic man and does so in an incredibly profound way, if you’re not familiar with his work. He draws a lot on Girard in his work, bringing it to bear on issues of salvation, sexuality, oppression, etc. Really vital stuff there that I’m learning a lot from these days.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  15. kenny chmiel wrote:

    Obstacles are a part of the process of being formed. The Desire to resent-

    resent |riˈzent|
    verb [ trans. ]
    feel bitterness or indignation at (a circumstance, action, or person) : she resented the fact that I had children.
    ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from obsolete French resentir, from re- (expressing intensive force) + sentir ‘feel’ (from Latin sentire). The early sense was [experience (an emotion or sensation),] later [feel deeply,] giving rise to [feel aggrieved by.]

    an obstacle is a healthy state if the nature of the object calls for it. The reality is that somethings that stand in the way should be resented and destroyed on the path to the end. Cancer, lies, dictators, Republicans etc. It’s weakness to pretend that Love is the answer here – sometimes hate seems to be more right. Knowing when to love and when to hate is the problem.

    Friday, December 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  16. kenny chmiel wrote:

    This guy is Awesome, thanks for the link.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

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