I understand what it means to dislike someone, or to treat a person with disfavor. I “get” the idea that it is possible to view another human being as distasteful. But I cannot wrap my hands around a hatred that completely devalues the other. How does one even study this phenomenon? Pure hatred seems too deep to understand, and yet too shallow to deserve analysis.
Still, every time there is a fresh act of hatred in the news, we find ourselves restarting the engines of thought that try to figure out why someone would do such a thing.
I woke up this morning to learn that arsonists had torched the Church of the Multiplication in Galilee. As the name implies, this is a holy site for Christians where many believe Jesus of Nazareth multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish to create a meal that would feed 5,000 people. I remember stopping in that beautiful church while filming a documentary on Jesus. There were spectacular 5th-century mosaics embedded in the floor depicting loaves and fishes.
Graffiti spray-painted on the walls seems to suggest that Jewish extremists who have been targeting Christian and Muslim holy sites in recent years are responsible.
For some people, religion provides their warrant for whom to love and hate. (Read Deuteronomy 13:6-10 sometime if you want an awful reminder of how religion can kill. By the way, these verses are not metaphor or allegory but direct words to kill.)
For other people, skin color or ethnicity is how they decide whom to love or hate.
Half a world away from Galilee is the port city of Charleston, S.C., where a 21-year-old shot and killed nine African-American Christians inside a historic church last night. The killer, who has been captured, expressly indicated that he wanted to shoot black people. What’s going to be a chilling realization for weeks and months to come is that he participated in the prayer and Bible study of this small group for a full hour before he murdered them.
So what do we do with the scourge of hatred? I have two deep convictions that stand out among some other thoughts of mine.
First, we need to make sure that in combatting hatred we do not create more hate within ourselves or through our acts. As the late Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin once put it, “If you love the good, you must hate evil, or else you are sentimental. But if you hate evil more than you love the good, you become a damn good hater! And the world has enough of those.”
Second, the only thing that can delouse hatred from a sin-sick soul is the weaponry of love. We can throw people into jail, and we should for certain hate crimes. But punishment doesn’t kill the cancer of hatred. As Martin Luther King Jr. said to jailing authorities in the early days of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott: “We will counter your force with soul force; we will match your ability to hate with our ability to love.”
That’s a tall assignment on a sad day, but one worth accepting.
Peter W. Marty, senior pastor