I wrote very recently of the 2020 election and its aftermath, and I didn’t plan to write today. I try to avoid politics on my Sabbath, in my reading, writing, and posting. Today I’m making an exception, as hatred rages through our public square a little more overtly than before — an exception for a thought which for some is religious, and for others is at least moral, not simply political, I hope.
One Nation, Not So Much
Whatever sources you choose to consume and believe, the news abounds with evidence that Americans are not a united people. Unity for its own sake is of limited wisdom and value, but unity based on true principles and righteous purposes is precious beyond rubies. Disunity is unstable, uncomfortable, and often dangerous, if cultivated.
At the present moment in our history, tens of millions of Americans believe there was substantial fraud in our presidential election. They desperately want the many hundreds of reports of fraud investigated. At least as many Americans believe those tens of millions are deluded if not deceived, and a loud faction supports political and corporate efforts to silence or even punish them.
Millions of Americans believe America is systemically racist now and to its founding roots. Other millions believe otherwise. The former faction is actively engaged in political, corporate, and cultural efforts to reeducate the latter. The latter faction senses existential threats to freedom, to the admittedly messy truth of our history, and to the future place of our founding ideals. They wrack their brains for ways to educate the opposite view out of our populace.
If you’re reading this, you likely know some of my views on those issues. But perhaps you’ll trust me that my views on those questions do not directly matter to my present point. In other words, for the moment I don’t care which side of those issues you’ve chosen.
Perhaps we can be forgiven for thinking we could be unified, if only those other people would stop saying this or doing that, or hadn’t voted for that <insert negative epithet here>.
(I’m not naming names or citing specific individuals’ roles in specific events. This leaves you free, as we spend a moment together, to label heroes and villains to suit your taste.)
Perhaps we can be forgiven for trusting in the arm of flesh — to borrow a religious phrase for something that reliably displeases God — forgiven for thinking that a change in political leadership will be the key to unity. There have been many promises, so often repeated. But no political leader can unite us without our cooperation, or disunite us without our consent. I readily concede that a determined leader can encourage unity or disunity. But even a great leader, if we could find one, cannot change our views and behavior. Only we can do that.
We Can Stop Hating People
Whatever the inclinations and human incapacities of our leaders, here’s one thing we can all do, if we will. We can stop finding excuses to hate people. We can stop giving ourselves permission to hate people. We can stop allowing ourselves to hate people. We can stop hating people.
For the Christians among us, some verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may spring to mind. Here I quote the King James Version of the Holy Bible:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
If you don’t revere Jesus Christ, you won’t be disposed to embrace that directive just because he uttered it. That’s okay. Perhaps you’d consider it on its own merits. You might reflect that we’ve been trying the alternative, and we’re trying it harder and harder lately. Do you think hatred is serving us well? Has it served many others well in the world’s history?
Hatred makes us more susceptible to falsehood, gaslighting, tyranny, and the hysteria (or rampaging cynicism) of comparing smaller offenses to history’s most catastrophic events. Hatred both constitutes and justifies seeing other humans as less than human, less worthy of the full rights and regard we owe to fellow humans. Hatred justifies both destruction and the popular dream — almost never fulfilled in history — that something less hateful will arise from the smoking wreckage.
If we want to make a difference in a difficult time — I believe almost all of us want that — the first thing we can do is stop giving ourselves permission to hate people.
Go ahead and hate falsehood, tyranny, injustice, and other evils, wherever you genuinely encounter them. But don’t hate people. It may be a struggle, but we can do it. I have faith in us.
Or we can rage through our intertwined lives, leaving a path of destruction through our little corners of world, until finally, in utter failure and desperation, we contemplate the rubble of our lives and civilization and begin finally to reflect that the answer we haven’t tried is the real one.
If you want to go full-blown Iron Christian and build up the strength actually to love your enemies, that’s even better, not to mention outright heroic. But at least we must stop giving ourselves permission to hate people.
United How? On What Principles?
Then we can reflect sanely and rationally: On what principles shall we unite ourselves?
- A love for truth? How shall we agree upon that? What are the starting points?
- A love for freedom, including freedom for those with whom we disagree? What does proper freedom look like, and how shall we protect it from ourselves?
- A conviction of the worth of each human soul? Including those who differ from us in the external and internal characteristics some exploit to divide us? What behaviors, rhetoric, and policies would reflect that?
- Fealty to a presently dominant political leader or faction? (Because there are darker possibilities too.) God have mercy on our nation, if we choose this, because we won’t be having much mercy on ourselves or each other.
If only a great leader would arise. But we don’t need a great leader for this, and we surely don’t need to follow any leader to disunity and hatred. We can allow him or her to go there alone. We can govern our own thoughts, words, behavior, and emotions with more humanity and maturity. Likewise, we need not yield to a leader who would drive us to unity on false principles; we can adhere to true principles, as we understand them, and not use others’ enmity as an excuse to be less than we are.
First Step, Next Step
We can refuse ourselves permission to hate other people — and ourselves, for that matter.
It’s a necessary first step. It’s a good next step, if we’re past the first.
Today is not too soon to take this step. Nor, I suspect, is it too late.
Thanks for reading!
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