I was reading a story about the rise of hate groups, and a quote jumped out at me. The Columbus Dispatch interviewed the leader of a Ku Klux Klan organization about its plans to expand.
Near the end of the story, Amanda Lee defended her group’s actions as something other than hate.
“We don’t hate anybody,” she says in the story. “God says you can’t get into heaven with hate in your heart.”
How can a group that reveres its history of lynching, bombing, and terror contend that it’s not driven by hate? How can anyone think that there’s no hate involved in demeaning and hurting people who are different from you?
If that’s not hate, then what is?
We’ve heard a lot of similar lines in the last few years from people trying to redefine hate into something more pretty and acceptable:
“I don’t hate black people. I just think they’re not as good as white people. And they should stop complaining about how they’re being treated. But that’s not hate.
“I don’t hate gay and transgender people. I just think they’re horrible sinners – unlike me – and I should be free to discriminate against them in any way I wish. But that’s not hate.
“I don’t hate Muslims. I just think they’re all dangerous and they should be prevented from practicing their religion in my country. But that’s not hate.
“I don’t hate women. I just think they should be submissive and accept that they’re not equal to men. And they should be quiet when someone says it’s OK to grab them by the crotch. But that’s not hate.
“I don’t hate refugees. I just don’t trust any of them – not even the starving babies – and I don’t want them near me. They make me uncomfortable. But that’s not hate.
“I don’t hate poor people. I just wish they’d get off the street corners so I wouldn’t have to see them. I think they’re all lazy and undeserving of help. But that’s not hate.”
There are many variations on the “I don’t hate (fill in the blank) people” theme. I suppose much of it involves people trying to justify their prejudices rather than confront them. Or maybe they’re trying to dress up their ugly ideas so they can gain a following.
But I also get a sense that some people who make these statements might actually believe what they’re saying. They think that because they don’t feel angry and hateful and vicious toward others, then it’s not really hate that’s involved.
We need to talk about this.
Love and hate aren’t about emotions. They’re about our attitudes and our actions. Love and hate aren’t about how we feel toward someone, but about how we treat them – what we do or don’t do to them.
To love someone means to treat them as we would want to be treated, regardless of how we feel. When we’re told to love our enemies, it doesn’t mean we feel warm-and-fuzzy about them; it means we respect their inherent human dignity.
Love recognizes that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be treated as such by our words and actions. Love values everyone’s dignity and worth as equal to my own.
By contrast, hate rejects another person’s equal value and worth. It sees those who are different from me as less than me in some ways. It creates the conditions for people to be abused and mistreated.
Hate is about attitudes and actions, not emotions.
One of the most jarring parts of Viktor Frankl’s description of his time in a Nazi extermination camp was how people did such savage things with so little emotion. Hate becomes truly dangerous when human empathy is stripped away.
Let’s also remember that hate has an evil twin – indifference. Hate is given approval to do horrific things when people shrug and say, “Not my problem.”
And let’s not forget that hate and love exist within each of us. That’s what it means to be human. Spirituality involves an ongoing examination of our attitudes and actions to see whether they convey love, hate, or indifference, and then choosing to do the most loving thing as best we can.
We need to challenge those who try to dress up hate and misrepresent it as something other than what it is. To do anything less is to give cover to hate and allow it to clothe us in its robes.
Choose to put on love instead.