Will Hatred Ever End?
IF YOU have watched even a few television newscasts, you are no stranger to hatred. Hatred is the common denominator that underlies the massacres that almost daily seem to leave their bloody trail in this world. From Belfast to Bosnia, from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, hapless bystanders are slaughtered.
The victims are usually unknown to their assailants. Their only “crime” is that they perhaps belong to the “other side.” In a macabre trade-off, such deaths may be a reprisal for some previous atrocity or a form of “ethnic cleansing.” Each round of violence serves to fan the flames of hatred between the hostile groups.
These appalling cycles of hatred seem to be increasing. Blood feuds are erupting between tribes, races, and ethnic or religious groups. Can hatred ever be stamped out? To answer that, we need to understand the causes of hatred, since we were not born to hate.
Planting the Seeds of Hatred
Zlata Filipovic, a young Bosnian girl from Sarajevo, has not yet learned to hate. In her diary she writes eloquently about ethnic violence: “I keep asking Why? What for? Who’s to blame? I ask but there’s no answer. . . . Among my girlfriends, among our friends, in our family, there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims. . . . We mix with the good, not with the bad. And among the good there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims, just as there are among the bad.”
Many grown-ups, on the other hand, think otherwise. They believe they have ample reason to hate. Why?
Injustice. Probably the principal fuel for hatred is injustice and oppression. As the Bible says, “mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.” (Ecclesiastes 7:7) When people are victimized or brutalized, it is easy for them to nurse hatred toward the oppressors. And even though it may be unreasonable, or “crazy,” the hatred is often directed against a whole group.
While injustice, real or imagined, may be the principal cause of hatred, it is not the only one. Another is prejudice.
Prejudice. Prejudice often stems from ignorance concerning a certain ethnic or national group. Because of hearsay, traditional animosity, or a bad experience with one or two individuals, some may attribute negative qualities to an entire race or nationality. Once prejudice has taken root, it can blind people to the truth. “We hate some persons because we do not know them; and we will not know them because we hate them,” observed the English writer Charles Caleb Colton.
Politicians and historians, on the other hand, may deliberately promote prejudice for political or nationalistic ends. Hitler was a prime example. Georg, a former member of the Hitler Youth movement, says: “Nazi propaganda first taught us to hate the Jews, then the Russians, then all the ‘enemies of the Reich.’ As a teenager, I believed what I was told. Later on, I learned that I had been deceived.” As in Nazi Germany and elsewhere, racial or ethnic prejudice has been justified by appeals to nationalism, another source of hatred.
Nationalism, tribalism, and racism. In his book The Cultivation of Hatred, historian Peter Gay describes what happened at the outbreak of the first world war: “In the battle of loyalties nationalism blotted out all the others. Love of one’s country and hatred for its enemies proved the most potent rationalization for aggression the long nineteenth century produced.” German nationalistic sentiment popularized a martial song known as the “Hymn of Hate.” Hatemongers in Britain and France, Gay explains, concocted stories about German soldiers raping women and murdering babies. Siegfried Sassoon, an English soldier, describes the gist of British war propaganda: “Man, it seemed, had been created to jab the life out of Germans.”
Like nationalism, an excessive exaltation of ethnic group or race can serve to foment hatred of other ethnic groups or races. Tribalism continues to ignite violence in many African countries while racism still plagues Western Europe and North America. A further divisive element that may blend with nationalism is religion.
Religion. Many of the most intractable conflicts of the world have a strong religious element. In Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and elsewhere, people are hated because of the religion they profess. Over two centuries ago, English author Jonathan Swift observed: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
In 1933, Hitler informed the bishop of Osnabrück: ‘As for the Jews, I am just carrying on with the same policy that the Catholic Church has adopted for 1,500 years.’ His hateful pogroms were never condemned by most German church leaders. Paul Johnson, in his book A History of Christianity, notes that “the Church excommunicated Catholics who laid down in their wills that they wished to be cremated, . . . but it did not forbid them to work in concentration or death camps.”
Some religious leaders have gone beyond condoning hatred—they have consecrated it. In 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Pope Pius XI condemned the Republicans’ ‘truly satanic hatred of God’—even though there were Catholic priests on the Republican side. Similarly, Cardinal Gomá, the primate of Spain during the civil war, claimed that ‘pacification was impossible without armed struggle.’
Religious hatred shows no sign of abating. In 1992 the magazine Human Rights Without Frontiers denounced the way officials of the Greek Orthodox Church were stirring up hatred against Jehovah’s Witnesses. It cited, among many examples, the case of a Greek Orthodox priest who pressed charges against two 14-year-old Witnesses. The charge? He accused them of ‘trying to make him change his religion.’
The Consequences of Hatred
Worldwide, the seeds of hatred are being planted and watered through injustice, prejudice, nationalism, and religion. The inevitable fruitage is anger, aggression, war, and destruction. The Bible statement at 1 John 3:15 helps us see the seriousness of this: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer.” Certainly, where hatred thrives, peace—if it exists at all—is precarious.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, writes: “The duty of the survivor is to bear testimony to what happened . . . You have to warn people that these things can happen, that evil can be unleashed. Race hatred, violence, idolatries—they still flourish.” The history of the 20th century provides proof that hatred is not a fire that will burn itself out.
Will hatred ever be uprooted from the hearts of men? Is hatred always destructive, or is there a positive side? Let us see.