To hate ‘hate’ or to love ‘love’…
That is the question
by N. Graham Standish
A Thought: It’s only as we learn what real love is that we truly recognize hate. And only then do we see how pervasive hate really is, yet even more how powerful love is. We can’t overcome hate by hating hate. We only overcome it by loving love.
A Reflection: We live in a time of growing hate. Those who hate feel increasingly empowered as they’ve marched to proclaim their own purity, perfection and prominence, while simultaneously lambasting the corruption and crudeness of others. Sadly, they don’t often know that they hate. They believe they’re simply living by a natural order, or are bringing a natural order to the world. Of course, in their order they are on top and others are on the bottom, but how can anyone complain about the way nature is? Isn’t that how God designed it — for some to be on top and others on the bottom, and most in-between?
The struggle is that hate doesn’t usually look like hate — at least not to those who gullibly think that the pursuit of rigid religious purity, perfection, and prominence is what God calls for. Hate always has justifications. We’re not against minorities, we’re just for us. We aren’t against Muslims/Jews/Christians/atheists. We’re just against those who are immoral, corrupt, or extreme. We don’t want to trample on anyone else’s rights. We just want to promote our own rights. Who could complain about that?
Haters almost always make sense on some level because their ideas are often articulated by compelling, well-spoken, seemingly well-meaning souls — especially those on radio, television and social media. How could we doubt their sincerity? How could we doubt their faith? How could we question their motivations?
They allure those who neither never have, nor never sought to, ground their lives in love. When life is loveless, or at least when it aspires less to love, then rigid logic becomes law. They proclaim orthodoxy, but what they’re really practicing is morto-doxy—the death of truth. They turn religion, faith, spirituality and theology into the promotion of purity and perfection, doctrine and dogmatics, legalism and law, all while failing to realize that without love there’s no truth. Why? Because truth resides in God, and God is love (1 John 4:8).
The rigidly religious always find ways to qualify love. As a pastor said to me after a group discussion (or was it argument?) about salvation, “Sure, love and all that is important, but not as important as purity.” That would come as great news to Jesus, who declared that the most important thing is to love God with everything we have, and then love others as ourselves (Luke 10:25-27). It would be news to John who reminded us that God is love, and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them (1 John 4:16).
Living in love is like living in bright sunlight that reveals true colors. The reason so many buy into hate is that they’re shrouded in dimness, rather than in darkness. They substitute their purity for love, their perfection-striving for love, their ideology for love, their theology for love, their religious rituals for love, their intellect for love, their practices for love, their proclamations, proscriptions, partitions, and pogroms for love. In the end, they love their ideas about God more than they love God, so love slips away.
For example, they may proclaim that they hate the sin and love the sinner, but in reality they hate the sinner, all while pretending that they only hate the attributes of the sinner. God’s love is sacramental, self-sacrificing, serving, and self-effacing. It lifts up the sinner and transforms sin through love. For me the brilliance of Christian spirituality is that it’s never forgotten the centrality of love.
The true mystics of Christian spirituality have never been those who are merely great at prayer. It’s been those who’ve pursued love, with prayer being part of that pursuit. It’s the 2nd century desert father, Abba Moses, carrying a leaking, sand-filled basket who refused to judge another brother, saying, “My sins are running out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I come to judge the sins of another!”
It’s Patrick of Ireland, who loved the Celts so much that after escaping a decade of enslavement to them, returned to share God’s love with them. It’s Francis of Assisi, who stripped himself of all clothing and inhibitions to God’s love, and then lovingly served God by loving people, animals and nature. It’s Catherine of Genoa who devoted her life to serving 15th plague victims, even as everyone else ran from them. It’s Thérèse de Lisieux, who wrote deeply and simply about loving God. It’s Father Damien, who lived among 19th century lepers in Hawaii. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr., who loved God enough to be willing to sacrifice himself in order to help those who hate learn how to love.
Hate always finds ways to hide, justify, and sanitize itself using lies, logic and law. But if we live in love, we will always see hate for what it is. And what we’ll discover is that we can’t overcome hate by hating hate, nor by hating those who hate. We only overcome it by finding ways to love and letting love be the way to live.
The Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish is the executive director of Samaritan Counseling Center in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and congregational transformation.