Hate is an ugly word, an ugly emotion and an ugly ideology.
It is the antithesis of natural law, the Ten Commandments and every teaching of Jesus Christ. It is responsible for murder and mayhem and the unspeakable torture and decimation of whole races.
It is something I have rarely, if ever, written about in the 20 years of this column – until now; until I woke up one morning and had the awful realization that I am capable of hate.
The school for this very disturbing lesson about myself was this year’s political campaign. As it progressed, a change came over me, imperceptible at first, and when I began to sense it, I turned to the always handy tools of rationalization and justification.
I was moving down what C. S. Lewis called, “the safest road to Hell … the gradual one.”
The seeds of anger were taking root – not with any one particular group of people but with one particular person – and the ugly fruit of hatred was blossoming. What woke me up was a reminder from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
The realization forced me to take stock of my own thoughts and emotions, to evaluate how much attention I was giving to my feelings of anger, fully aware that the more attention you give something, the more it grows.
I needed to understand the basis for the anger that was eating at me, and what I discovered was fear, a bottom-line fear that we, as a society, are moving backwards. Fear that, in spite of thousands of years of growth and what we sometimes mistakenly refer to as civilization, we have come no further along the path of becoming fully human than we were when Cain killed Abel.
And why is it that, for us who claim to be Christians, we are often less a part of the solution than we are a catalyst for the problem?
At what point in our lives does it become necessary to reconsider what it means to live as Christians, specifically Catholic Christians, in a world that seems, at times, to be running in reverse, and all because of fear? Of course, many of our fears are well-founded. The problem comes when we allow our fears to push us into isolation, irrational behavior, escalating conflict, and the demeaning and mistrust of our fellow human-beings.
The great rabbi, Abraham Heschel, a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr., left all of us his profound insights on what it means to be people of faith. Reflecting on one part of his commitment to the civil rights movement, he said, “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
Rabbi Heschel underscored the truth that our involvement in the real world is a spiritual involvement, as well as a practical one. This spiritual engagement must be our foundation in all the arenas of our lives – family, work, cultural, environmental and political. It must direct our decisions and behaviors, from the seemingly insignificant to the profound, especially where fear exists.
Our Catholic faith should lead us away from a purely emotional reaction to our fears and encourage a rational, responsible, intelligent response that fosters the unity on which our faith is built – the Trinity, the communion in love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jesus’s own words call us to live for this unity: “I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
Even Scripture never offers any assurances that being a follow of Christ and living the Gospel will be easy. It’s not. But it’s worth the effort.
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts … ” ― C.S. Lewis,
The Screwtape Letters