What is hatred?

hatredI have been reflecting on the way that hatred is something that is encouraged in both political and religious life. In particular hatred is used by leaders to bind people together in targeting a despised group, and this is particularly true in a situation of war. To fight a war, the enemy has to be categorised as being despicable, unworthy of any sympathy and thus to be destroyed. It would probably be true to say that hatred is normally much more a group phenomenon. It is always easier to feel hatred when you know that other people are feeling the same way. Many of our newspapers are good at rousing passionate hatred against particular groups, whether asylum seekers, gays, social security scroungers or politicians who fiddle their expenses. Much political life centres round the arousing of enmities between social classes and nations. One fears that the vote about the European community will be decided, not on the rights and wrongs of the case, but on what people feel about the situation. Does a feeling about foreign nationals boil over into a form of hatred? If the feeling is that strong, it is likely to play a part in the way we vote.

One of the political tricks used by Peniel/Trinity Brentwood was the encouragement of an ‘us-them’ culture in their church. Members of the congregation are encouraged to feel that their church was superior, not only to other local churches, but to all the churches in the land. Once this sense of superiority has been nurtured in the congregation, it is a small step to make to start despising, even hating, other groups of people. Michael Reid was particularly good at this. He was skilled in convincing parents in the church to send their children to the church school by telling them that at local schools, children were taught by the devil. This was obviously a reference to the fact that issues of equality, tolerance and respect were taught in the schools. The Calvinist doctrines around the saved and the unsaved encouraged a binary way of thinking, and the practising of hate is going to be part of the way that a group of people are going to be controlled. We are one because we all hate the same things. Hitler welded the German people together by giving them a common object to hate and sometimes it is hard to see a great difference in the way that Christians behave.

It is a good idea when we find ourselves feeling irrational hostility to an individual or a group of individuals to examine ourselves and ask what is going on. Hatred of any kind is more likely to be saying something about us. Something about the behaviour, belief system or appearance of another person has evoked negative feelings in us and these need to be brought out into the open. We may feel hatred for another person or group because they make us feel inadequate in some way. Hatred may emerge when we are jealous of the achievements of another person. This kind of jealousy says something about our failure to discover contentment in what we are and what we do. We may be harbouring unrealistic ambitions and in this way making ourselves thoroughly unhappy. The same is true when we find ourselves agreeing with the newspaper about immigrants, workshy people or another despised group in society. I know some people have a deeply irrational reaction to the existence of gay people. One has to speculate what is going on internally that makes them so passionate about this issue when most of us are content to live and let live. Strong irrational feelings about anything often come from a part of the personality which has little to do with our Christian identity or our rational thinking side.

Hatred is a powerful but an irrational emotion. We owe it to ourselves and to our Christian integrity to be prepared to search within ourselves to find out where this powerful feeling comes from and what it is truly expressing. We will find, to our shame, that most hatred is unworthy and evil. It also involves a massive expenditure of energy which we would do better to avoid. One of the key ideas of Christianity is that of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just about passing over the offences of others, it is also about forgiving ourselves for such things as hatred and passionate irrational dislike of others. Using our minds, our Christian consciences and our insight, we can learn a new way of dealing with the foibles and differences that are found in other people. We must learn particularly be on our guard against joining in a mob hatred towards groups of others, particularly when this hatred is being encouraged by a Christian leader. Sadly at this moment in the church there are quite large constituencies of Christians who are being caught up in a kind of mob hatred for other Christians who are not like them. The meeting of the Anglican primates in January in London is going to be an interesting affair. The question that has to be asked of the leaders of the church, particularly those from Africa, is whether institutional hatred should be allowed to dominate the discussions. The leaders may not realise it, but it seems clear that Christian groups in America and Australia are trying to manipulate and encourage hatred as they play a complicated power game within the Anglican communion. Such hatred must be challenged and not allowed to win. We will see whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican leaders are able to stand up to this attempt at manipulation which we would claim is grounded in a passionate irrational hatred.

In combatting hatred whether the group kind or that built on individual dislike, we have two very simple antidotes from our Christian tradition. The first, a paraphrase from the Lord’s Prayer, say simply ‘forgive as you are forgiven’. The second command also summarises much Christian teaching which is ‘love, as you are loved’. If every Christian could really internalise these commands, our world might be a better place. Hatred is in fact like a poison that wants to corrupt and damage everything in its path. We must meet that poison to neutralise it with the tools that we have been given. Hatred is never the Christian option. It must be resisted and shown to be entirely contrary to the spirit of Jesus and the path that he teaches us to follow.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

7 thoughts on “What is hatred?

  1. I have not been on this site for a while. Your article makes Interesting read.

    Have you considered the fact that what you labeled as “hatred” in someone’s mind may simply be a kind of dislike or desire to see wrongs or injustices put right rather than pure hatred or even mild hatred?

    If nothing gets challenged, people become indifferent (live and let live), society disintegrates etc. I would not necessarily challenge two consenting adults engaging in a same sex relationship, but I do not condone work shy benefit cheats to the detriment of those who are vulnerable and who are most in need of our help. There is only so much money in the pot to go around.

  2. Are you advocating peace at all cost or ostrich style living/ approach? Surely one has to stand up to eternal values/ timeless truths?

  3. I think it is possible to distinguish between the hate-filled rhetoric of some Christians in this country and overseas and a calm loving standing up for the cause of right. I do not advocate ostriches but I do believe that when Christians spew out hate, as they frequently do towards liberals, homosexuals and anyone else they do not agree with, they dishonour the faith and the example of Jesus. The example of Jesus at his passion is sufficient to indicate that it is possible not to hate or to be identified with those who do. If you live in a world where such hate is nowhere present, you are indeed fortunate. Peniel church about which I have written much had as one of its slogans ‘Esau I hated but Jacob I loved’. This gave the leader Michael Reid permission to incalcate the most appalling hatreds into his congregation. The American bible student who suffered rape at the hands of a church member, said that part of the build-up to this event was the way that the entire congregation was encouraged to think of them as the ‘enemy’. That is the kind of thing I am thinking of. By writing this blog I hope that I show that I am clearly standing up for what I believe to be the cause of love, truth and honesty over the the opposites of lies, hatred and evil.

  4. Stephen, I am aware that you have been deleting posts. Could you please leave the following in place for a while as I would like to qualify my previous post on the issue.

    I am not opposed to paying pensions and bonuses to high ranking executives and officials provided that they are deserving and proportionate. I am sure that many are deserving, but there has to be a fair and moderate formula that incorporates a cap, not an arbitrary or punishing amount as far as tax payers are concerned.

  5. I did delete some posts whether from one person or several because they seemed way off the point of the discussion. I wrote a piece about the way that hatred sometimes creeps into churches as a means of power control. I used the political example to illustrate the process. I do not understand how the discussion has crept on to whether or not executives should be highly paid. I will leave your post there but the blog is really not about this area of life. It could come under a discussion of public ethics but that is not an area of discussion on which I have any expertise.

  6. I once had someone fly at me in a rage. It was someone who I had been friendly with, and he had turned against me. The “hate face” though it’s rare, and actually I had never seen it before, is quite unmistakeable. Not necessarily incidentally, the person concerned is ordained. So hate does exist. It’s not just a question of hating what someone does.

  7. What a grim first sentence to your article. In 2016 I will make love my aim – 1 Corinthians 14 verse one, and hope to be a prophetic voice as well as Paul encourages. This website has a prophetic edge to it to my kind, which I appreciate very much.

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