Hatred is a Killer

A man dresses his little sister in a suicide vest and we throw up our hands in horror; another chases someone, sets fire to him, then devours his leg, and we react with revulsion. We know the situation in Afghanistan is complex but we look at the end result: a brutalisation so complete that a child is merely an instrument of war and revenge. We know the situation in the Central African Republic is also complex, but again we look only at the end result: a man is so inflamed by the murder of his pregnant wife that he not only kills the person responsible but shows utter contempt for him. In both cases, our Western susceptibilities are outraged: we believe children should be afforded special protection; cannibalism is off-limits; the perpetrators of these acts are vile.

It is no good blaming religion as such for either of these atrocities. It was not Islam which made that man force his sister to wear a suicide vest; nor was it Christianity which made that man kill his neighbour and devour his leg. We are very much mistaken, though, if we don’t acknowledge that religion, however much misunderstood or perversely interpreted, has played a part in allowing such things to happen because it has become a convenient peg on which to hang visceral hatreds and rivalries. That is dangerous, because it affects public perception of the religion in question, not merely of the individuals who (mis)use it as justification for their actions.

Increasingly in the West, we are seeing Islam and Christianity pitted against one another in the popular imagination. Polarisation between the two has become an explanation, we might say the explanation, of every violent or aggressive act that involves adherents of either religion. The trouble is, that kind of ‘explanation’ merely stops us examining other motives or causes and, incidentally, does a great disservice to those who genuinely try to live good and peaceable lives according to their religious beliefs. Perhaps it is time to take stock and admit that even the most loving and merciful of us are capable of ugly acts.

We may think of ourselves as kind, compassionate people, always eager to do good to others and without a mean bone in our bodies. That may be how we are born, but we quickly learn behaviours that are not so pure or generous. It is only grace that keeps us in check, and it is a grace we must earnestly desire and pray for, not presume upon.

It is easy to condemn someone who makes a walking bomb of his sister or eats his neighbour, but the intense hatred that inspired such acts didn’t begin like that. Its origins may lie in mere dislike or minor antipathy, a half-remembered grudge from ancestral times or a sense of grievance never satisfied; but it was allowed to grow until it stifled every better feeling. One of the lessons to be learned from these tragedies is that hatred is a killer — and just as likely to be found in our own heart as in the heart of another.


4 thoughts on “Hatred is a Killer”

  1. Much of this, particularly “Polarisation between the two has become an explanation, we might say the explanation, of every violent or aggressive act that involves adherents of either religion. The trouble is, that kind of ‘explanation’ merely stops us examining other motives or causes and, incidentally, does a great disservice to those who genuinely try to live good and peaceable lives according to their religious beliefs.” reads perfectly to describe the situation in N.Ireland regarding Catholicism/Protestantism during the “Troubles” and right up to this day, sadly. (My heart broke for Stephen Gault, victim of the Enniskillen Bomb of ’87, when he was getting much abuse on twitter after last year’s Remembrance Day, commented that “even Catholics” were contacting him to tell him they felt the treatment he was receiving was wrong… The polarization of the two denominations took place here for so long, that even though most of the physical fighting is done, and we have gone a way towards peace, many people still do not understand the basis of what you typed above.)

    The reason I’m highlighting this is that I completely agree with what you have written, but I would take it further in that any faiths (and even atheism) can be used to hang an excuse on, in any part of the world, for awful actions, and I think it is necessary to see and understand that, otherwise we run the risk of doing as you say – of not questioning and checking our own actions and motives – because we think “only a person wrongly motivated by x religion would do an evil thing like that.” (I get a certain amount of passive negativity from some atheist friends, along the lines of “atheism never did x, y or z whereas Christianity….” And have to remind them that it was not the faith that did the atrocity, but the human.)

    Blessings on your recovery Dame Catherine.

  2. I still believe that these days Evil is regarded as a word that is out of fashion, as is the description of Evil as the Devil.

    I remain convinced that Evil is at the heart of the things that you describe and is actively working to bring down the goodness and Grace that is God’s gift as you describe, that keeps us in check.

    I accept that within ourselves we have both good and evil and I’m reminded quite often of the old expression “There but for the Grace of God – go I” and never more appropriate when we consider our own actions and omissions.

    I suspect that prayer is our only outlet when we consider these situations, but we can also actively challenge the sort of attitudes and prejudices that we all have and occasionally meet in others against anyone else who is different from ourselves.

    But hatred is such a severe expression of the evil that can betray us all, that we need to be on our guard against each of us promoting it by our words or actions.

    God help us all.

    • “There but for the Grace of God go I.” – sometimes I think “There DESPITE the Grace of God go I, yet again.” (speaking about myself). I agree with you about the concept that Satan and evil are recklessly downplayed and in one homily our priest commented that this is yet another of Satan’s deceptions embraced by many in our society, to our detriment.

      I like your little black cat image – we have one such creature living with us, too. Throughout Advent when we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” I thought back to your saying how much you enjoyed that hymn, Harold and I thought about you and your wife returning home after Church to your cats, just as we were doing here on the other side of the world. A small world, isn’t it?

  3. I think hatred against a group of people is often taught as a means to ensure future generations remain on guard lest that group of people cause suffering and death in future. That was my father’s view as the descendent of Irish potato famine survivors, and he would add to the starvation the example of the Reformation. He hated the English to his death. The problem with hatred is that it is unbalanced, so easy to fall into, but then isn’t everything promoted by Satan sugar coated? And once we entrench ourselves in hatred we become one with the object of our hate, in my opinion. There are no winners in this soul destroying game.

    I found it difficult to understand the point of the Christian man eating the charred flesh of his adversary. As a Catholic who believes I am ingesting the true Body and Blood of Christ when I receive Holy Communion, I can’t conceive of eating my enemy – as in we are what we eat. A tragedy all ’round.

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