By Father 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.
A person can say, “I hate driving on icy roads.” 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 usually keeps us away from driving altogether in these conditions. As this example demonstrates, the emotional response of hatred focuses a person’s attention and strengthens a person’s willpower, so 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 threats to our well-being and the willpower to address or neutralize them.
The challenge of feeling this level of dislike or disgust is that the emotional response is rarely based on a legitimate threat or danger. We sometimes have a way of manufacturing hatred, so it masks other feelings that we may be experiencing in our lives, such as fear, guilt, pride, envy and shame.
Here are some examples: “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, the experience of hatred is not based on a true threat that could ultimately hurt us; the hatred is based in some other aspect of a person’s life.
Since these experiences of hatred are so powerful and overwhelming, hate distracts us from other things going on in our lives. We could feel very differently if we did not go immediately to hatred: “I really need to improve my game.” “I wonder why these people are acting this way.” “I am really sad right now, and I do not like being this sad.” When a person is experiencing the overwhelming response of hatred, there is no room for anything else. It is a blunt instrument not easily controlled. This reality is currently on full display day after day in our news.
For all of the reasons I listed above, the emotional response of hatred can be so sinful and destructive. 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 by a disciple of Jesus Christ. 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 who 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 have been told that we should never experience hate. However, in our lives, 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 a person because he or she belongs to a different political party. 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, 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, we just might discover that instead of seeing a world filled with hate we might begin to see the world filled with so many other possibilities. Finally, we need to remember that it is through God’s grace alone that we are able to accomplish this reality. We are never alone in striving to overcome hatred in our lives. Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!
(Father Jacob Greiner is pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish and John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport and director of seminarians for the Diocese of Davenport.)