So much of what I read about and see in the world seems to be one long howl of hate.
I can understand, to some extent, the uproar of this time: call it economics or job losses or an unrelenting summer fraying nerves. Call it fear of other. Right now, Muslims are the newest minority in America – they are “the other” and many people don’t know much about Islam or know anyone who is a Muslim. But what causes hate?
When perplexed by a word, my first recourse is my trusty American Heritage dictionary and the Indo-European roots of words that might give me a clue. But the IE root to hate means hate. Nothing else except, perhaps, sorrow. The word has come down through the millenia, through tens of thousands years, through languages and cultures with no other meaning. Hate means hate.
So that’s the word. No help there. But words in themselves mean nothing. They are symbols of thoughts. For example, take the word, dog. It’s a familiar word. And yet, saying “She’s a dog.” “He’s a dog.” or “It’s a dog.” give us different thoughts and images.
What are the thoughts and behind a person’s hate?
We know what hate looks like and even what it sounds like, but we don’t know the causes or the thinking processes beneath hate.
Philosophers have offered numerous definitions: Rene Descartes said hate was the urge to withdraw from something that is thought bad. Aristotle saw hate as the incurable desire to annihilate an object.
In psychology, Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness. In other words, we wish to destroy something or someone that causes us deep pain. Have you ever kicked a chair after you stubbed your toe against it?
9/11 was a pivotal moment in American history. There’s no going back from a moment that changed our lives forever. We all saw it. We called each other to turn on television. We shared a horror. The pain was deep and searing.
Follow me now around a curve in my thinking: I’m also reading a book, written by Susan Vreeland, about a 17th Century painter, Artemisia Gentilischi, the first woman admitted to the Academy in Florence. She was born in Rome but left after she was humiliated and treated as a whore by a papal court for bringing charges against her painting teacher who raped her. She carried the pain and anger with her to Florence and it shows up in her paintings, especially the “Judith Slaying Holofernes.”
After a few years, she receives a letter from a nun who was an earlier teacher and confidant. The nun writes, If that man has not separated you from the love of God, and he has not, then the only thing keeping hate of him alive is your thought about him. Only your pride keeps him in your memory and in your brush. Dissolve your pride, and you dissolve your hate. To be still possessed of the hate that pain made is not intelligent. It can sap your energy from what you know to be your purpose. By being troubled by it, you have already discovered it to be unworthy of your grander aims, and that is the beginning of humility.
This leads me to my second curve: tomorrow I preside at the mass for The Feast of the Assumption of Mary. And while I know this is a recent feast and the idea of bodily assumption a created response to the life of Mary, the reading gave me pause to think about humility in a new way. The reading is from Luke and commonly called The Magnificat. It’s also a created passage by the writer of Luke and echoes the words of first century hymns, but look again at the words, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God…”
In the earlier story, the part we don’t hear in this particular reading, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she will bear a son. But I’ve not been with a man! she says. And the angel says the Holy Spirit will visit her and she will become pregnant.
Now being pregnant and unmarried would, in those days, lead to stoning. She must have had pride in her status as a virgin in the village. But she turns from her fear and pain and faces a human condition (the root of humility) and says, I will.
Perhaps the way to overcome hate is to understand humility and the human condition: the human conditions of fear and pain, and the very human reaction to strike back at what causes us pain.
I don’t want to strike out, even verbally, at those who express hate. But I do want there to be a conversation that asks for the root. What causes the fear and pain? Why do we humans hold on to hurt, to feed the thoughts of hate and anger, even when it gets in our way?
But most of all, how can we step through our pride we take in holding onto our grievances and reach humility. The humility that says, you, too, have suffered. I will not cause you more pain.