Our age is an angry one. Hatred abounds, both within the church and outside of it. A world rages in woundedness. Liberals hate conservatives, conservatives hate liberals; feminists tend to hate men and men, in turn, tend to hate feminists; the poor tend to hate the rich and the rich tend to despise the poor; an emerging laity in the church tends to hate clerics and clerics too often return the favor; countless people are angry about the past, about churches and governments in the past, about their upbringing, about their religious and moral training, and with persons and incidents which shaped and wounded them.
The times are not pleasant. Anger, hatred, indignation and bitterness are around and are no longer viewed as vices that one should apologize for. Rather, these are identified with passion for truth and justice. There is an overall atmosphere of hypersensitivity, the slightest unqualified statement can deeply offend someone.
There are two ways of interpreting what all this means. In one view, hatred is seen as mainly negative, as a sign of people’s immaturity and their unwillingness to recognize and deal with their own anger and woundedness. As Gail Sheehy sarcastically put it: Today it seems everyone needs a cause. Would that people were more honest and admit that they are engaged in a far humbler struggle – growing up! Obviously, there is some truth in this: if all of us were perfectly whole and mature, there wouldn’t be anger and hatred around. But the issue is not that simple. It is not just because of immaturity that many persons involved in personal and social struggle go through periods of intense hatred. It is not accidental that, at times, women can hate men, poor can hate rich, liberals and conservatives can hate each other, people can hate their pasts, local churches can hate central authority, and citizens can hate their country.
What is strange when one looks at this is that people, in fact, hate someone or something that they deeply love. That only appears to be schizophrenic. When one kind of love is not possible, another side of love – hatred – takes over. Several years ago, in this column, I wrote a piece entitled “Getting in Touch with Hate” (WCR, March 14, 1983). In that article, drawing upon the thought of Rollo May, I suggested that hatred is not the opposite of love, apathy and indifference are. Hatred, rather, is love’s way of grieving, it’s the way wounded love rages, it’s love’s refusal to resign. In that article, I suggest that hatred is not always wrong and un-Christian, it can be healthy, just as grieving can be an aid to regain health and resiliency after the death of someone close to us, so too hatred can be an aid to healing after being wounded by someone.
This can be understood by comparing hatred with grief. Hatred is like grief. It comes from the same part of us, the heart: is caused by the same thing, hurt; follows the same rules; and comes fraught with the same dangers if it degenerates into self-pity. There are rules for grieving and for hatred. Thus, for example, not all grief is healthy. Grief is unhealthy when (1) it is not in proportion with the event which triggered it; (2) when it is self-pitying; and (3) when it is protracted over too long a time. In these cases, grief does not help one regain one’s sense of health and bounce. It, instead, causes narcissism, depression and self-pity.
Hatred operates under the same rules. It can be healthy and a source of healing, but two rules must be respected: (1) It must be honest, and (2) it must not be protracted over too long a period. To be healthy, hate must be honest. Our biggest temptation when we are angry and bitter (and the greatest obstacle to healing) is our propensity to distort, to lie, and to let things get out of proportion. Because we are hurt and hateful, we invariably begin to paint the one who has hurt us as demon, devoid of all good.
When in hatred we begin to lie and to distort, hatred does not lead to health. Rather, it leads to self-pity and self-righteousness. We become bitter and bitchy. In dishonesty, we warp ourselves and put ourselves on the road toward sin against the Holy Spirit. Then, too, for hatred to be healthy and healing, it must have a definite time limit. A friend of mine tells the story of his older brother’s death. At age 19, his older brother was killed in a car accident. His mother became despondent. For two years afterwards, she cried habitually, withdrew from social life and was generally depressed.
One night, nearly two years after her son’s death, she was cooking supper and crying softly to herself. Her husband came up behind her, took her by the shoulder, and said firmly: “That’s enough! Enough crying! Let it go! You have to start living again.” From then on, she stopped crying and started living with some enthusiasm and vigor again. Looking at that example, we see that it was important that she had her cry, two years of it. Her tears were therapeutic. But it was also clear that at a point, someone – she or someone else – had to say: “Enough! Let it go!” No one should cry 20 years after a death (or, at least, there should be a different kind, a less bitter kind, of tears). The same is true for hatred.
Hatred…a complex phenomenon, good and bad, love’s tears!