Following the politics of the USA over the last few months has left me astonished by two things: the resilience of its democratic traditions; and the virulence of the hate expressed by people on both sides for people on the other and their representatives. It reasonable to speak of demonisation: one side speaks of crazy violent people ready in the name of their twin saviours, Jesus and Trump, to destroy a civilisation and its political processes, terrorising and killing their enemies; while the other excoriates the sinister, deceptive deep state, ready to get rid of opponents while defending paedophiles, homosexuals, communists and Muslims. I do not judge these two camps as equal in value, because I think a decent life is impossible under Trump supporters, while it may even flourish under the justly elected government; but I also judge that the hate expressed by both sides is equal in virulence.
But what are we to make of the fact of hate?
1. It is frightening.
2. It does not see an opponent as a person, but as a frightening object to be removed.
3. It is violent
4. It is not rational
5. It renders inoperative the humane qualities of the one who hates.
6. It must destroy opponents; compromise is impossible.
7. It wants to dominate, often in the name of some cause, The Reich, Great America, Jesus, Mohammed.
8. It is afraid of the opponent.
9. It usually lies.
10. The person who hates is vestigially aware that it is evil.
I could lie and say that I have made this list by rigorous scientific examination of the hate expressed in the USA at present along with classic expressions of hate such as Nazism, Islamic State, The Inquisition, and so on. In fact I have only had to look into my own behaviour.
Without going into overmuch detail, it should be enough to say that by the end of my secondary education I viewed myself as a corrupt and cowardly failure. This was a result of events in my upbringing and education. Although some of the corruption and cowardice were real enough, there turned to be some good in me as well, which I was lucky enough to learn through good friends, further education and the Christian Gospel. Faced, as I have sometimes been, however, with people whose attitudes to me or my loved ones remind me of those who made me a failure, I react with hate. I forget that these people have no power over me, that their actual behaviour may be trivial, that perhaps they have merely expressed a common prejudice. None of that seems relevant; I want to destroy. I am not interested in what is fruitful, true, wise or just. They have to be destroyed. In truth I never let this happen, although once or twice I glimpsed a (quite satisfying) degree of fear in my opponents. But I felt it, the blessed relief of hate.
I should make clear therefore that the only justification for hate is that someone is actually trying to destroy you, to take away your self-respect, your will to live, your civic rights, your means of life, your life itself or that of your dear ones. Even in those circumstances, hate as the desire to destroy may not be the most effective response, as Jesus indicated in his words about trying nevertheless to do good to enemies, and in his lived example. Martin Luther King argued that a courageous love was more effective than hate in defeating the opponents’ hate. But before one rises to those heights, it may be necessary first to feel hate, to redirect the hate shown by the opponent back upon him, refusing to be a victim. Gandhi said that if we didn’t have the courage to fight, we would never have the courage to love. Sadly, however, if this hate insists that we are just as good as our opponent, it may also remind us from time to time, that we are just as bad.
There exists in the world a deliberate campaign to persuade white Europeans and others descended from their colonists in Africa, America, Australasia, that a conspiracy of other ethnic groupings along with dissident whites is trying to destroy their way of life and status. Various expressions of this doctrine can easily be found online. The kind of fears which led Anders Brevik to murder socialist young people are very similar to those expressed by The Proud Boys and other Christian militias in the USA. There Is also a disturbing similarity between these discourses and the rantings of Salafist Islamic leaders against the Christian West. Any political activist can use elements of this conspiracy theory to arouse hate and to direct it at his political opponents, as Donald Trump has done in the USA, or Viktor Orban in Hungary.
It helps of course, if there are large numbers of available people who feel their way of life is under attack. It may be, as in the USA, that white power is under threat from the insistence of other groups on their civil rights. It may be for white working people in many societies that the failure of liberal capitalism to provide a decent living is all too clear. It may be little to do with economics but much to do with traditional communal mores, regarded as backward by urban elites who are at ease with all sorts of sexual preferences. In any case where people suspect that they are failures, the provision of an enemy to hate is a blessed relief: we are not failures but victims, and we can refuse to be victims by making our hate work for us. Hitler knew how to use this ideology in 1930’s Germany. Political rallies like Trump’s or Hitler’s are echo chambers for expressions of hate, as is the Internet: from teenage tantrums to football allegiances, to the seductions of Evangelical Christianity, it amplifies the sound of hate.
All this deals with hate as a societal phenomenon but I have been made frequently aware through my pastoral duties of personal hate. The greatest, indeed purist example of hate I have known was when two estranged daughters of an apparently nice old man travelled from L.A. to Dundee Scotland for his funeral, to tell me that he had sexually abused them both as children, and that if my eulogy made him sound nice, they would interrupt. Honour to them. But often family hate is unjustifiable and corrosive, and between former friends vituperative. I have seen a daughter-in-law maintain her hatred of an authoritarian father-in-law beyond his death because it was also her means of dominating her husband.
Where does it come from and why do human beings enjoy it so much?
The archetype is in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel. God does not look with favour on Cain’s offering, not because it consists of plants, but because of his competitive attitude. When Cain grumbles, God tells him that if he does right, he can hold up his head; but that if he doesn’t, sin is crouching at his door, waiting to pounce. Even then, he can master it, if he wants. But he prefers the wild animal and kills his brother out of hate. We can of course blame God, but the story forces us to see how easily hate builds up and how devastatingly it expresses itself. Hate can give pleasure to human beings; we are an animal that loves and hates. The only remedy is to confess it and control it. Jesus taught his disciples to recognise the beginnings of hate in the denigration of others and to stop it there. There’s no magic cure for hate, either the communal kind or the personal. If we see it crouching we must use its name and call it to heel.
But we may be able to prevent its occurrence by forms of family and societal life which by their affirmation of the value of each person, namely through justice and love, reduce the likelihood of there being anything real or fictitious which arouses hate. I see encouraging signs of such prevention in the policies and conduct of Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. Where real causes for hate already exist, we should listen to the experts, to the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Luther King, and to wise politicians, like Mary Robinson, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Karin Jacobsdottir.