Friday, June 28, 2013

On Hate

I suspect that most of us who blog on a regular basis are like people who set themselves on fire and then attempt to extinguish the flames with an axe (unless you only blog about puppies and babies, which is probably not a bad idea).

So, yesterday I picked a topic that opened up sensitive areas for people—people about whom I care deeply. I used the NOH8 Campaign as a launching point, not to demean a legitimate vehicle of protest, but rather to look at the larger issue of polarization and anger that seems to permeate our society. The challenge to NOH8 was not about combatting hatred; it was about my concern that opposition in any form might be classified as hatred. The post was not about gay rights; it was about how we as people have come to use caricature and categorization rather than civil discourse to fight our political and religious battles.

This is not a NOH8 issue (it’s just that they are prominent in the news right now). It’s a larger cultural and maybe even global issue. Some examples:

When Christians who embrace the Tea Party Movement are asked how they reconcile the writings of Ayn Rand (her Atlas Shrugged has been called the Tea Party Bible) with the teachings of Jesus, the questioners are sometimes suspected of being “socialists” by merely asking the question.

When political leaders differ with one another, labels of “fascist” or “communist” fly through the air.

When people protest against particular wars, they are often called “unpatriotic” or “un-American,” as if being pro-war (one of the worst evils to be visited upon the planet) is a sign of one’s national loyalty.

When Christian scholars suggest that there might be more than one way to understand certain doctrines, you hear the word “heretic” echoing off the walls.

Once you have labeled and categorized your opponents, you have turned them into objects. Objects are easy to hate.

I have the privilege of working for an academic institution that places a high value on civil discourse. Rather than engaging people of other faiths or other traditions in a combative manner, they seek to listen deeply in order to properly understand the other. They do this, not in an abandonment of their own Christian convictions, but instead with a deep commitment to their faith, and with the expectation that the other will come to the table with a similar sincere commitment to their beliefs. In that environment, caricatures break down, categories unravel, and understanding emerges. Without such willing discourse, people continue to run the risk of bearing false witness against one another. We who are followers of Jesus should tremble at that possibility.

We human beings should not kid ourselves about hatred. It is not going to go away any time soon. Thousands of years of human history show us that hatred, violence, and inflicted suffering visit us repeatedly. I support any effort to call for an end to hatred, bullying, discrimination, and other violations. But winning political, legislative, and cultural battles will not erase hatred from our planet.

Only love has the power to do that.

Love does not see the “other” as an object to be caricaturized or categorized. Love sees the other as one of deep value, whether or not there is shared agreement on all topics or even when violence and injustice is inflicted. For some of us, hearing the story of Jesus provides an image of such love, when he is unjustly condemned to death and then nailed to a Roman cross to die, yet prays that his killers would be forgiven because they didn’t know what they were doing. NOH8.

The NOH8 folks have graphically illustrated a profound truth: Hatred seeks to silence its detractors. Hatred wants to duct tape any mouth that would speak with a different voice. We humans all run the risk of committing that crime. History shows us that, quite often, the oppressed later become oppressors and the persecuted become the persecutors. It’s an ugly reality, and it isn’t going to go away. All people carry a role of duct tape in their pockets. Not all will use it, but it’s there just in case.

Love, however, doesn’t seek to silence others. Someone has said that love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude; love doesn’t have to have its own way and doesn’t cheer when others fall, but rather celebrates when things are truthful.

I think that NOH8 is a clever title, and the 30,000-plus photos of people with their mouths taped shut is a creative visual reminder of how oppression works. But I’d like to see if someone could come up with something like that regarding love. Not sure what that would look like.

Maybe it could look like Jesus.

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