I recently examined the source of the hatred that has metastasized in America in recent years, and I found it to be the media’s abandonment of journalistic standards. First, they mixed opinion with news, next they made their opinions an official narrative and ignored competing views, then they demonized and silenced those that embraced such views. These assaults aimed at persuading their audiences to hate the people they hated. Finally, I identified the considerable harm this caused to American culture.
In this essay I will examine how hatred has harmed individual Americans. The obvious victims have been the targets of hatred—those who have been publicly maligned, often falsely, and as a result have been robbed of their dignity and reputations, and sometimes their livelihoods. But my focus here will be on the often-overlooked victims of hatred—the haters themselves.
Before identifying the various ways in which hate harms the hater, let’s consider the process of becoming a hater.
People’s judgments of others are fair when based on sufficient evidence—notably, what the person says and does—and unfair when based on insufficient evidence or on bias or prejudice. Since the dawn of the human race, the fairness or unfairness of people’s judgments has been strongly influenced by the example of parents, teachers, and friends. In modern times, however, a new influence has arisen, that of the communications media and, more recently, social media.
This new influence has become more powerful than all the others combined because it not only suggests lines of thought but also withholds information about competing lines of thought. Furthermore, it uses exaggeration to manipulate emotions and repetition to firmly plant a single view in people’s minds. The result is that people believe have formed their thoughts when they have actually been tricked into embracing other people’s thoughts.
This media process can be employed to generate love or hate. In both cases, people are victimized. But in the case of hating, they are especially harmed. Here’s why.
Hate clouds perception
Hate blunts the impulse to see good in the other person. It makes us find excuses so that we can continue hating. If the person we hate gives generously to the poor, we say “he must be doing it for show, for his own glory.” If he accomplishes all manner of good, we deny he did so, or ascribe evil motives to him, or give others the credit. Our default reaction is, “He can’t do good because he is evil,” which really means, “I can’t acknowledge any good he does because that might lessen my hatred of him.”
Hate is unresponsive to reasoning
The purpose of reasoning is to reach a fair judgment of the matter at hand, be it an idea or a person. For a judgment to be fair, it must be unemotional and objective. Hate, however, is driven by emotion and cannot be objective. It is therefore unresponsive to reasoning and does not permit making distinctions, such as between an elected official and his supporters. So when we a hate a particular official, we are inclined to say to ourselves, “the only ones who could support him on any issue are those who are hateful themselves.” From that view it is easy to contend (absurdly) that such people should be barred not only from public office but from gainful employment. As unlikely as it may seem, this suggestion has been made publicly concerning Trump supporters.
Hate restrains virtue
Most people are familiar with the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. But there are many other virtues and related qualities, a hundred by one count. Here are two important groupings of those virtues: Virtues that enable us to feel and practice love of others. These include respect, friendliness, pity, empathy, compassion generosity, kindness, and charity. Virtues that enable us to engage with others meaningfully in education, business, and community affairs: examples include self-discipline, patience, tact, openness to understanding, cooperation, fairness, forbearance, humility, and courtesy. Hating a person or, worse, a group, makes it at least difficult and more often than not impossible to practice these virtues.
Hating others defies Sacred Scripture
The fundamental teaching of Scripture is to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Hating others is the opposite of loving them and thus incompatible with Scripture, which teaches the following: All people are created in the image and likeness of God who is good. Yet all have free will and can choose evil thoughts, words, and deeds. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm this. See for example Judges 2:19, 1 Peter 3:9, and most notably Romans 7: 19,20. Furthermore, both the Old and New Testaments say we should hate evil itself as distinguished from hating the people who engage in it. And the New is emphatic about loving, rather than hating, one’s neighbor. See, for example, Matt 5:43-44, 1 John 4:20, and 1 John 4:7. Indeed, Jesus called loving our neighbors as ourselves the second greatest commandment (Matt 22: 36-40)
Hating people not only defies Scripture—it also makes it difficult if not impossible to show mercy and forgiveness to others, and to recognize our offenses and seek forgiveness from them as Christ commanded. (See Matt 7:5)
To summarize how hating others harms us more than those we hate: It compromises our gifts of perception and reason, hinders the practice of virtue, and defies God’s explicit commands and admonitions. Yet the fact that communications and social media tempt us to hate others in no way justifies our yielding to that temptation. Nor does it lessen the power of the hatred we express to ultimately destroy social harmony and undermine our civilization.
Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved