By Fr. Jake Greiner
Hatred, in its purest form, is an intense feeling of dislike or disgust towards a person, a group, an idea or even oneself. Psychologists believe that hatred probably has its origin in a person’s God-given desire to protect himself/herself from danger, whatever this danger may be from a person’s unique experience. Therefore, a person can say that “I hate driving on icy roads.” I believe many of us would say that this hatred would be a correct way of describing a person’s reaction to the possibility of losing control of a vehicle. Since many of us hate to drive on icy roads, this general feeling of dislike or disgust keeps us focused when we are driving on icy roads, or our hatred of icy roads may keep us away from driving in these conditions. As this example further demonstrates, the emotional response of hatred focuses a person’s attention and strengthens a person’s willpower so that the natural desire to protect oneself from harm can be fulfilled. In sum, the intense emotional reaction caused by hatred helps us to identify legitimate enemies to our well-being and works to make sure that the physical threat is avoided or neutralized.
The challenge with hatred is when this emotional response is not based on a legitimate threat or danger but is manufactured in a way that allows us to justify other feelings that we may be experiencing like fear, guilt, pride and shame. This manufacturing of hatred happens most frequently when we are dealing with ourselves and other people. “I hate him because he is better than me.” “I hate them because they are different and they won’t change.” “I hate myself for feeling this way.” In each of these reactions it becomes clear that the experience of hatred is probably not based on a true physical threat that could ultimately hurt us, but on some other aspect of a person’s life. Furthermore, since these experiences of hatred are so powerful and overwhelming, this feeling will distract these individuals from so many other feelings and experiences that should also be a part of their lives. “I really need to improve my game.” “I wonder why these people are acting this way.” “I am really sad right now.” When a person is experiencing the overwhelming emotional response of hatred, there is no room for anything else. Hatred is a blunt instrument that is not easily controlled.
For all of these reasons, the emotional response of hatred can be so sinful and destructive, and it is clear that hating any person is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The extreme dislike or disgust for another person felt through hatred can never be justified. In fact, Jesus Christ goes so far as to challenge us to love our enemies because of the destructive power of hatred (cf. Matt 5:43-46). This command to love even those that we could easily hate is truly a manifestation of how God’s grace can transform our lives through mercy, forgiveness and love.
Many of us were told that we should never experience hate, but in our lived experience, we do experience the intense feeling of dislike and disgust. It seems that we could hate driving on ice-covered roads, but we should not hate the person sitting next to us on the plane because he is chewing his dinner with his mouth open. We have to get in touch with what is really driving our feeling of dislike and disgust, so we can truly figure out what is going on in our lives. If we succumb to hatred in our lives, our world becomes very dark, lonely and suffocating. We have to fight against the desire to hate and allow ourselves to see the truth of the situations we encounter. If we are successful in the fight, we just might discover that instead of seeing a world filled with hate we might begin to see the world filled with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
(Fr. Greiner is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)