Thinking About Hate

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.

About Revolution

The past week of newspaper reading and NPR listening has offered me a window into two new and forming cultural paradigms: one on politics and race, and the other on religious tolerance.

1st Window: According to the New York Times, “Newt Gingrich has suggested that Tea Party advocates and the N.A.A.C.P. hold joint meetings.” What??? Now I’m all for getting people to talk civilly to one another and his plan to focus on an economic agenda and “bring all Americans together” has merit, but as the article goes on to say, “…by ‘all Americans’ he means predominantly those who are old enough to remember when cigarettes were harmless and Strom Thurmond was a Democrat.”

I am, truth be told, old enough to remember both of those. Those were the years when I joined the newly burgeoning feminist movement, glorious memories. But I also remember the ugliness of fire hoses turned on civil rights demonstrators; and I remember the night I participated in a non-violent protest against the Viet Nam war and barely avoided clubbing by a policemen. My memories and experiences of those days are very different from most who have joined the Tea Party movement. They are, I suspect, the very people who opposed the civil disobedience in which I was involved.

Which leads to the cultural paradigm change: a generational divide also marks this time just as it marked the years when I was a young woman in my 20s. The ones who are angry during this time of change were, for the most part, also in their 20s, then.  The 20 year olds today, the Millennials, who will grow and change, and even in some cases become more conservative in their thinking, will not go back to the thinking of post WWII.

The article goes on to say, “According to the Pew Research Center in June, 34 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 – and 29 percent of voters 65 and older – say they agree with the movement’s philosophy: among Americans 49 and younger, that percentage drops precipitously.”

Which tells me there’s still a good percentage of people my age who did as I did: we grew and changed and developed from the thoughts and experiences of the 60s. And as we grew and changed, many of us became more pragmatic and willing to make changes one step at a time, one person at a time. Many of us exchanged beads for suits. The young people today are the leaders of a different kind of revolution, one that is more balanced than their elders. Ergo, the photo above of a young man named Lee Tockar, who, while I don’t know him, looks very much like many of my young college students.

The majority of those in the Tea Party do not have the luxury of years to grow from these days, their time of civil disobedience.

2nd Window: Yesterday in the car, I listened to NPR as I often do while in the car. I heard Terry Gross, on “Fresh Air” interviewing Richard Cizik, a leader in The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. For many years he was the vice-president for governmental affairs in the National Association of Evangelicals. He was fired in 2008 for saying, on an earlier Fresh Air, that he supported civil unions for gay couples.

As I listened, I found him to be a compelling speaker as he detailed how the Religious Right, which included many prominent Evangelicals, had become so enmeshed in the politics of the Republican Party’s “moral majority” ideas that they lost track of the message of Jesus. The New Evangelicals, for example, believe in social justice, oppose the Arizona anti-immigration law, confront Glenn Beck’s stand as pouring “contempt on a central concern of God…,” and promote Muslim Christian dialogue.

I found further evidence for this change in Evangelicals from a Frank Rich column in Sunday’s NT Times, titled “The Good News About Mel Gibson,” (love Rich’s play on “The Good News”) and detailing Gibson’s fall from grace, as it were. As recently as 2004, Gibson’s film, “The Passion,” was hailed as revelatory.

Frank Rich writes, “During the ‘Passion Wars’ [the president of the National Association of Evangelicals] tried to blackmail Gibson’s critics by publicly noting …that Jewish leaders would be ‘shortsighted’ to ‘risk alienating two billion Christians over a movie. That Evangelical leader was Ted Haggard…since brought down by a male prostitute.”

Since then, Jerry Falwell has died and James Dobson has retired. “What remains of that old guard is stigmatized by its identification with poisonous crusades…”

Frank Rich ends this column by saying, “The death throes of Mel Gibson’s career feel less like another Hollywood scandal than the last gasps of an American era.”

Revolution is, indeed, in the air. And while I know the pendulum swings back and forth in our not-very-old-culture, I am also grateful to have lived long enough to see some of the values for which I participated in civil disobedience coming to become the norm: social justice for women and for men and for children; a willingness to bridge racial divides;  tolerance and non-judgment.

That doesn’t mean we live in a perfect world. It does mean we are evolving. Many years ago when I was reading almost everything George Bernard Shaw wrote, I came across one of his thoughts that struck me as portentous – it may have been in his play, “Methuselah.” And he said (paraphrasing) that the next human evolution will be an evolution of consciousness. I see that evolution today.  

Evolution doesn’t go backwards.