Ask Andrew” is an annual opportunity for members of Knox to ask questions of faith and religion. Andrew answers them in the Sunday morning service, and now in this blog. Enjoy!
Ask Andrew Part 2: Hate
Why did God give us the feeling of Hate? Would the world be a better place without it?
Like last week, the second part of this question is easier to answer than the first. I do believe that the world would be a much better place without hate. The most basic Christian teachings are about love, even to the point of loving our enemies.
Which is perhaps where the main question comes from: if hatred is something we oppose so strongly, why is it there in the first place?
We need to start by understanding that hate does not exist independently. It does not come from nowhere: Hate grows out of fear.
Fear is a useful emotion: it was designed to warn us of danger, to keep us alive. (What was that snapping twig behind me in the dark woods? Run!)
Over time, our fear and caution have taught us to trust patterns. Sometimes we are fearful of anything that is outside that comfortable pattern (a useful thing when the new item is a hungry lion hiding in the grass or a crocodile trying to look like a log that wasn’t there this morning).
But fear, when taken too far, can be a problem. Overwhelming feelings of fear can paralyze us, prevent us from doing what we need to do (like standing stiff with fear until the lion or crocodile eats us).
Alternatively, if we are afraid, but not paralyzed or destroyed, and feel powerless to do something about the fear, it can turn into hatred.
Our society knows this. Hatred of outsiders is called “Xenophobia”; hatred of gays is called “Homophobia”; and the Greek word “phobia” stands in for both fear and hatred in these terms. That understanding is also there in the lesson from the 1st letter of John listed above. The same connection is made (although another Greek word is used for hate: mish), but clearly the same principle is understood because it is a basic human truth: our hatred comes from fear.
God did not put hate in our hearts. We took the survival skill of fear and corrupted it into hate.
I find this easier to understand when someone has had a personal experience of oppression and has repetedly been abused. It is not hard to imagine how both fear and hatred grow under those circumstances. We might be sympathetic to the person whose hatred has developed that way even as we try to help them overcome their fear and renounce their hatred; ideally by helping them get into a safe place, free from abuse.
I find it harder to deal with the kinds of hatred that are second-hand: the prejudices that are handed down through generations, within societies, and around the locker rooms. This shows itself in so many ways: racist or sexist jokes, ethnic stereotypes, homophobia, and the kinds of language that is making headlines right now in Canadian Universities as we discuss whether a rape culture exists in the very places we are training our future leaders.
This kind of hatred is impersonal, even careless. It is often without passion. That lack of passion makes some people wonder whether it should really be called hate. However, there is no question that it is experienced as hate tbyhe person who is the target of the joke, or the stereotype, or the threat that’s “just a joke.”
And even without the passion, it does arise from fear. Usually it is the fear of what is different, taken beyond mere caution into the realm of hatred.
One of the most damaging aspects of hate, whether it is hot or cold, angry or passionless, is that it allows us to treat someone else as if they were not people.
I can actually see the value in that as an emergency survival mechanism: the guys from the next village over have come to your village with clubs and are trying to kill you and your family. Oo protect yourself and your family you have to hit the guy in front of you with your own club. Having sudden feelings of sympathy for him before you swing will mean that you will die and your family will be captured or killed. Being able to treat that attacker as an object instead of as a person exists in us as a useful mechanism for horrible emergency situations. It has helped us survive as a species.
But we have taken that emergency instinct for self-defense and turned it into a way of justifying war with people of other cultures or languages. We have used it as justification for building empires with armies or with economics (generally over people far away and different enough that we can dismiss their concerns as invalid). It is that same ability to treat people as objects that lets us build a society that allows people to starve or freeze to death (as long as we don’t know them personally).
This level of indifference to others should be called “hate”, since both indifference and hate serve as opposites of love. They both make it easier to dehumanize other people and ignore their suffering, or worse, to justify their suffering.
That is why the call to love our neighbours, and even more remarkably, to love our enemies, is so strong in Christian scripture. Both the lessons above make it clear why: as people of God we are called to be like God. The love of God is so all embracing that if we really make it part of our lives it becomes strong enough to drive out fear and take away our hatred.
Of course, this is not easy. The love of God is not a magic pill; it is not a drug to dissolve hatred and let us love easily.
God’s love is not abstract, either. Peanuts creator Charles Shultz got it right when he had Linus announce: “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”
Loving real, imperfect people takes effort. Why else would clergy need to teach and preach this for 2000 years?
Love takes effort, but it is possible. People have managed to love their neighbours and love their enemies under incredible circumstances.
It takes practise to be able to do that. It can help to make a point of trying to love where you are, with the people around you, and then move on to those farther away: neighbours and enemies alike.
God does not put hate in our hearts. We learn it.
God does put love in our hearts, and we can learn to make it grow. It is worth the effort; and if we want to eliminate our own fear and hate, love is the only thing that will make it possible.