Hatred, Enmity and Love

Last Friday, the 18 February 2011, the authorities of the Republic of Iran urged their supporters to participate in a “Day of Hate.” At massive rallies after Friday prayers, crowds were urged to scream out their ‘hatred, wrath, and disgust’ against leaders of the opposition. What was striking about this exhortation was its specific emphasis on hatred. One can stop opponents, even using force, without hating them. One can even punish opponents without hating them. Last Friday in Iran, however, the authorities explicitly promoted hatred as state policy. Such a policy is, of course, in striking contrast to today’s Gospel, when Jesus says, “You must love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” but opponents of Jesus’ teaching on this point often raise two objections. First, they say that Christians often fail to follow this teaching themselves, an accusation that unfortunately has some truth but does not, in itself, invalidate Christ’s commandment. They go on to argue, however, that since, they claim, it is almost impossible to love our enemies, Christ’s exhortation should be rejected as unreasonable in favour of more achievable moral standard. This objection raises the following challenge to Christians. From what perspective, in what kind of worldview, is it reasonable to love our enemies rather than hate them? In the moral theology of St Thomas Aquinas, what is the perspective of the Gift of Wisdom which helps to anchor the virtue of love?

One perspective that can help defuse hatred is an awareness of futility of evil. While evil people and evil states can often appear very strong and cause immense suffering, there is a paradoxical emptiness and even banality about evil. The strength of what is evil is often only superficial, sometimes literally on its outer surface, such that it is often hollow within or eaten up, like some rotten fruit. This internal void is why evil regimes often implode when external constraints are removed. Hating absolute evil is therefore rather like trying to hate empty space, there is no ‘thing’ there to hate which is not itself merely a corruption of what is good. While it is vital to oppose evil, when the futile condition of the perpetrator of evil is understood and lamented, it is a little easier, perhaps, not to give way to hatred. Furthermore, Christianity also shows that what is truly holy and is of God is indestructible in any permanent sense. When Christ was crucified unjustly, he rose from the dead and can never die again, and even the marks of the crucifixion became trophies of his glory. So the only real and lasting threat that what is evil poses to what is good is to tempt or intimidate what is good to become evil itself. That is why it is so important, when struggling rightly against what is evil, not to actually become evil ourselves, to give way to hatred.

A second perspective that can help defuse hatred is a strong appreciation of gift. A good deal of the energy that drives hatred comes from a perceived violation of one’s entitlements, a violation of what philosophers call, ‘commutative justice.’ These kinds of relationships are along the lines of, “I’ll do this for you, if you’ll do this for me.” Commutative justice is immensely important in a post-Fallen world, and human beings have invented money to facilitate these kinds of transactions. Nevertheless, when hatred is fed into the commutative equation, then it is tempting to meet hatred with hatred, “You’ve do this to me… I’ll do this to you,” and so on. Jesus provides the answer to this kind of temptation in today’s Gospel, “For He causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.” The larger picture is that everything we have comes to us as a gift, not as something to which we are entitled. This awareness of freely given gift should underpin a certain freedom towards our goods, goods that an evil person or regime might take away. The proper response to gift is not a sense of entitlement, however, with violation fuelling resentment, but of thanksgiving. Hence, as a supreme example, Jesus is described as giving thanks, the name of the Eucharist, to his Heavenly Father on the night before he suffered and died. Giving thanks recognises gift and breaks down the logic of entitlement that demands hatred be returned for hatred.

May God help us to see the struggle against evil from the perspective of divine wisdom, so that we love our enemies, pray earnestly for those who persecute us and come safely, with them, one day to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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