The Anatomy of Hate

Last night I sat down to watch the news. The British news was dominated by the horrific events in Paris and world reaction. Other more ‘local’ stories also caught my attention. The stabbing of a policeman and the suspected gangland shooting of a man. With these items and so many others that they almost need to compete for attention as news (Beirut, Baghdad etc.)  I understand although worry when I hear young people say that the world’wearies’ them.

I do not think that I can understand how one human being can in a premeditated way take or physically harm the life of another. The pathology of those who do this is beyond me. Yet, I did find myself wondering about the anatomy of hate (apparently the name of a film) which I suspect at least plays some part in some such events. As I did so, I became aware that in all my years of Christian ministry that I had never discussed hatred as a topic in any sermon or address. Love – yes, that got in there often. But not hate. Perhaps, this is because like love hatred is actually very complex. Perhaps it is because to think about it is to already to go to a dark place. Yet still I wondered on – what creates the hatred that can lead to the violence of one against the other. To be sure, as a Christian theologian I would place the root of this in the nature of after Eden humanity. Yet, not all people resort to the violence of hate. My initial foray into hate inspired violence pointed me in three directions:

Suffering at the hands of the other. To experience suffering perceived or actually caused by another, either to ourselves or to those who we love or associate with, is surely a cause of that we might call hate. Those who experience such suffering experience others as harsh, cruel, unkind, not like-able, hateful, and respond in kind. In this sense hate breeds hate. Hate is a response to those perceived to cause harm and hurt.

Dehumanizing of the other. It seems to me that those who we may come to hate are dehumanized through being depersonalized into type, stereo-type, caricature. To be sure we can hate particular individuals but usually we will hate them because they have done something to us (as above) or because they are…and we choose a label. That label may identify them as being part of a bigger group who for various reasons we dislike on mass. On the other hand when we dislike a group on mass we may then dislike individuals who we associate with that group even although we may never have personally met these individuals. Here one issue may be that our opinion and information about ‘types’ is mediated through various media and not the result of personal encounter. The very nature of media reporting requires types and simplicity rather than complexity to communicate. To put this differently, ignorance of the other through a simplification of the other into a dehumanized type can lead to fear and hate.

Ideological Motivation. This exists when the commitment to a particular ideology is perceived to at least justify if not necessitate violence against others for the sake of its defense or promulgation. The ideology itself may not indeed require such violence but rather the strong commitment to the ideology in the individual creates it. This said, I suspect that normally the direction towards ideologically motivated violence is probably something which can be implicitly if not explicitly defended from an interpretation of the ideology itself. Accordingly the holders of the ideology may themselves differ on the use of violence. Such ideology need not be religious.

A Christian response to such hate will certainly require further serious reflection on the nature and language of hate within the biblical and Christian tradition. It will also require reflection on the anatomy of love in order to make such love a concrete and meaningful response. Somehow in this respect I find my mind wandering around the events of the arrest of Jesus, the response by Simon Peter in using the sword, the rejection of Jesus of the sword and the desertion by the disciples at this point. Here are some texts in which we need to place ourselves and recognize the choices we make and the consequences of them as we respond to the hatred of others, the factors which create it, and the presence of hate in our own lives.




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