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In a startling scene from his classic novel “1984”, George Orwell describes a large audience watching a film showing a traitor to the Party and that man’s critical views of it. Within mere seconds, the happy and docile crowd transforms into a vicious mob that throws anything it can at the film screen image. As Orwell writes, “A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.” Even the novel’s protagonist Winston Smith, who himself opposes the dictates of the Party, joins in with the mob in their mass display of visceral hatred.
Such a scene in the book is described as a hate session when people were ordered to participate in an exercise designed to promote the Party’s agenda. Orwell based these fictional sessions on literal fact – modeling them after two minute hate sessions held at mass rallies when Stalin ruled Soviet Russia. But “1984’s” hate sessions find parallels in episodes of mob hate that were fomented in the United States after screenings of D.W. Griffiths film “Birth of a Nation” in which African-Americans are depicted as lazy, menacing and stupid. These scenes were juxtaposed in the film against the virtues of the Ku Klux Klan as defenders of morality and the American family. So too does Orwell draw comparisons with the German Nazi film “Jud Suss” which depicted Jews as greedy and treacherous. It was required viewing by all of the German SS troops and helped to inspire in them a mass hatred of Jews.
Right now, we can currently witness examples of mass expressions of hatred towards political opponents – as Republicans voice hateful words toward Democrats and they return the same. Some have called President Obama a Marxist, the Anti-Christ, and a closet Muslim bent on destroying democracy and Christianity. Just a few years ago, President Bush was labeled a village idiot, a baby killer, a war criminal and a fake Christian. Washington Post columnist Walter Milloy has said he would like to spit on members of the Tea Party, saying they are a faction full of bile, anger and venom – even as he displayed those very attitudes with his words. Senator Al Franken wrote a book entitled “Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Stupid Idiot”. Glenn Beck on his TV and radio shows often refers to Progressives and liberals as nefarious thugs and bullies bent on destroying the US Constitution and indoctrinating young school children. As Orwell himself said, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, schizophrenia and hatred.”
We witness it around the world with Jews hating Arabs, Hindus hating Muslims, Muslims hating Christians, straight people hating gays, ethnic groups despising other ethnicities, the rich hating the poor and, in most of these cases, those who are hated returning the very same sentiment. Such hate would not be so bad if it was not manifest in most of the above cases by murder, torture and unspeakable cruelty against fellow human beings.
This extreme and violent emotion of hate is in our homes, our schools, our places of worship and in our government offices. Indeed, hate is in this room and likely resides, in some form, in each and every one of our hearts – a kind of deep rooted antipathy toward another person or group of people that hungers for physical, mental or emotional harm to come another. We nurse hatred in our souls and we manifest it in the words we use, the attitudes we have and how we act toward the object of our hate. Merriam Webster dictionary defines hatred as having an intense hostility and aversion toward someone, usually stemming from fear, anger or sense of injury. Who among us can claim to be free of having felt such an emotion in the past – or even right now? I ruefully confess I have been a hater and, too often, I still am.
In a startling study about the biology of hatred, it’s been shown that love and hatred are not opposite emotions but are instead closely related in terms of the brain areas and biochemistry responsible for them. MRI scans of people show that both love and hate come from the same insular cortex area of the brain. A distinction arises, however, when people feel a strong sense of love. The frontal cortex, that area of the brain associated with judgement and critical thinking, largely shuts down. It is a common truth that passionate love is usually irrational. But when hate is felt, the frontal cortex of our brains lights up and is quite active. Hate is thus guided by reason and thought. In other words, we consciously choose to hate.
While some assert hatred is an evolutionary phenomenon originating from a tribe’s need to justify taking scarce resources from other people in order to survive, others believe hatred is a largely human emotion that goes beyond mere survival. It’s rooted in jealousy, envy, fear and anger but it is not a feeling over which we have no control.
The masks of hatred we often wear are hideous to behold. Caught in the throes of my hatreds, I can barely recognize myself. I can inwardly seethe and dream that my version of justice will befall the one I believe has injured me. I hope for their downfall. I think about it, hope for it and delight in it if it should happen. I want those I hate to suffer. Even such an admission is a horror to me. I do not like that ugly me.
It is remarkable, given the widespread existence of hatred in our world, that the prophets of all major world religions taught and preached against it. Jesus radically called people to a totally new way of thinking about people we consciously choose to hate. He called his followers to think and act against their hating nature and against thoughts of revenge and anger. As he taught, “You have heard it said ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.’”
Jesus taught that we can act as he did – to allow ourselves to symbolically be crucified on the altar of hate as a sacrifice for love, decency and the common good. By choosing to act totally counter to our lust for revenge, we can crucify our baser thinking. We can kill it. We can act against the selfish ego that hatefully seeks retribution and punishment. Instead, we must counter-intuitively forgive the one who hurts us, act kindly to the one who hates us, and understand the one who disagrees with us. Just as the Buddha said hatred can only be eliminated with love, and the prophet Muhammad said that hatred is no excuse for actions of violence, Jesus boldly declared that hate in any form, especially that which dwells in our hearts, is a form of murder. We cannot allow ourselves to self-righteously claim we are not murderers and purveyors of violence when we harbor hate toward any person or group of people.
The causes of hate, experts say, are often subtle. This extreme and intense emotion comes from our fear, envy or anger towards another. Allowed to ferment unresolved, these initial emotions turn violent in our minds whether or not we have any intention of acting violently. Just the mere thought of hatred is a cancer within – denying us peace of mind and causing forms of stress and angst that harms us more than the person we hate. Indeed, when we hate we have symbolically climbed down into the pit of violence from which we were originally harmed. We become just as evil and just as violent as the one who hurt us. Even more, we have not exercised the opportunity to stop the cycle of hate and violence. Our hate and our retribution against one who has harmed us will only feed a response. Hatred begets hatred begets hatred – in an endless spiral of evil.
We deceive ourselves, however, that acts and words of retribution are a show of strength but, in reality, they are evidence of weakness. As Jesus modeled with his breathtaking examples of counter-intuitive teachings and actions, forbearance in the face of violence, forgiveness to those who hurt us, and gentle empathy for those with whom we disagree, these are marks of greatness and strength. It is easy to lash out, to label an opponent with nasty words, or to harbor bitter resentment and violent thoughts. It is far more difficult to channel anger in appropriate directions, choose ways to empathize, deny emotions of hate, and act with grace. Indeed, I propose that when we choose not to hate – in any form – we have chosen a radical, holy, divine and miraculous way of thinking.
Experts assert that like any human emotion and thought pattern, we have the ability to not only control hate but to choose healthier ways of thinking. Most psychologists, for example, indicate that those who hate are often manifesting a deep hatred for themselves. While some turn self-hatred upon themselves with harmful addictions, isolation or self-mutilation, many turn their self-hate outward as a way to lash out at the very demons inside themselves. Carl Jung, the famed psychologist, termed this a projection of one’s inner shadow when he or she disowns parts of themselves and projects them on another who must then be hated and fought. Indeed, it’s been shown that the degree of love or hate people show others is a measure of the love or hate they have for themselves.
By understanding this diagnosis, we can then examine why it is we feel hate. What am I projecting on another that which I inwardly harbor in myself? If we often lash out against others using hate filled speech or actions, can we first examine if such words are subconsciously meant for ourselves? If we can, we will not only see how we project hate on others but also then understand our unhealthy thoughts about the self – I’m inadequate, I’m unloved, I’m a failure, I’m unhappy. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we can begin to change those thoughts about the self and thus our thoughts towards others.
A second solution to our hate is to move away from an “us versus them” way of thinking. As many of you discussed here last week with Stuart Blersch, we too often divide ourselves into factions and tribes, believing that the one to which we belong is superior. We dehumanize the other person or group and attach labels to them that not only demean them but stereotype them in ways that are false – I’m good, he is bad, I’m hardworking, she is lazy, I’m moral, he is immoral. Such labels are easy and simplistic. They derive from our hate. Psychologists identify this behavior pattern as one where the other group cannot simply be disliked, they must be made an enemy to be aggressively fought with words and deeds. Take a look at a chart depicting “us vs. them” thinking and the various hate filled word labels we often use. (Show chart.)
Words we use about others lack nuance, understanding or empathy. They are simple generalizations that fail as descriptions. Further, these labels dehumanize the other and overlook the links that bind people together – our shared humanity, our common goals to build a family, to be loved and to love, to seek the betterment of society and the world. Conservatives and liberals, for instance, may disagree on methods, but both groups are American, both are interested in the well-being of the nation, both want the best for all people. When each side descends into a spiral not just of policy disagreement but of name calling, personal attacks and outright hatred, we have gone too far.
If we are truly introspective about ways we are purveyors of hate, we might see our inconsistent and often hypocritical attitudes. Just as the Washington Post columnist exhibited with his words about the Tea Party, we are often blind to how we exhibit the very same qualities we say we hate. It is the other who is irrational, uncaring, or deceitful. Me? I’m the good one!
Such hypocrisy angered Jesus more than any other attitude. Don’t point out the speck in another person’s eye, he famously taught, when you symbolically have a log in your own. Don’t decry another’s adultery when you secretly lust in your heart. Don’t condemn those who physically act with violence when you nurture hatred in your heart and mind. Don’t judge the sin of another when you have sinned thousands of times yourself. (As Pope Francis famously said a few weeks ago about gays and lesbians, “who is he to judge them?”)
Don’t arrongantly display your good deeds and your charity when all you really want to do is show off how good you are. Don’t openly display your acts of piety, religion and prayer when all you really want to do is appear as a moral person.
Jesus asked us to first heal ourselves – to first seek our own personal goodness and to stop the hypocrisy. Give to others in secret. Pray in private. Address our own hate filled thoughts, our own flaws, our own subtle prejudices first. So often we spew our hatreds on others when it is each of us who need the most help to speak and act with gentleness, empathy and love. As the Buddha and Gandhi both eloquently taught, the hate we see in the world, the injuries and offenses perpetrated against us, these things will not be solved by returning hate with hate. They will only be solved with love.
My friends, it is normal and fun at Halloween to celebrate mythological frightening creatures – vampires, ghosts, witches and monsters. Indeed, part of the fun of Halloween is that it allows us to make light of our fears. But a far more real and sinister evil in the world is not a cartoon monster or devil that hides under our beds. The real devil is in us. Every time we mock or speak nasty words about others, we perpetrate evil. Every time we fail to forgive, when we nurse inner feelings of resentment, when we dream of violence or humiliation against a perceived enemy, we perpetrate evil. All of the acts of extreme hate throughout history and witnessed in the world today began with simple thoughts of envy, anger or fear. Allowed to fester and grow, they evolved into hate and a desire for violence and harm upon the other. Such hate is easy to spread. People do not like to be alone in their hate and so they use lies and propaganda to stir it up in others. We want company when we hate.
I pray we might each begin to change our ways, our language, and our inner hearts. We must be honest with ourselves and admit to ways we hate. I pray we will also admonish one another to change – gently pointing out when someone uses hate language or actions. The high ideals we hold in this congregation are worthless unless we too practice them. Hate is a mask I can too often wear. It is ugly and foul. Help me take it off. Help me to throw it away. Help me to replace it with the face of who I aspire to be – a person of peace, joy and love.
I wish the same for each of you here and listening online.