We are offered choices throughout our lives, including the real choice to love, or to hate. Don't let us confuse the two.
“Hatred has a long shelf life. Once it enters into the human heart, it’s hard to get it out. It breeds destruction, discouragement, and hopelessness.” — Robert Enright
In today’s lead piece, Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble gives us “5 Ways to find peace in the midst of chaos.” She’s giving good advice, particularly as Advent approaches. In Advent we learn to rekindle hope; we work at reducing our roughness in order to make room for tenderness, not just for the Christ Child, but for one another, too.
On Twitter, Sr. Theresa has noted that she is taking an internet break, for Advent, and I personally know several other high-profile folk who are also either shutting down their social media presence entirely for the season, or markedly reducing it, in great measure because they really want the gifts of Advent, and they’ve determined that in order to acquire them they need to put aside the media that brings them, so easily, to places of turmoil and hatred.
Satan’s great trick is disorientation, and the greatest disorientation is to forget what love is (or how to recognize its fruits, which are joy, and freedom, and peace) until what we take from our hatred begins to seem like love.
I wrote this in 2012, for my book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Lives. Given the national mood, and with Advent approaching, it seems like a good time to excerpt it:
Anyone who has ever been targeted by a pack of bullies or has run with one understands that when we are venting hatred along with others, we acquire a sense of belonging and purpose that—quite unlike love—comes to us in an expeditious and rather painless way. Mob-supported suppression of the other removes openness from the social equation; and that, in turn, takes away vulnerability, leaving us with a powerful sense of communal well-being. We love our hate because it makes us feel beloved and invited to the party. We no longer have to think for ourselves. To continue to fit in, all you need is hate, and hate is much easier to entertain than love; it requires so little of us.
This hate that feels like wide-open love is, paradoxically, limiting and self-defeating. Once hatred has become our social vehicle of choice, the travel options become limited: either stay the course and wear the blinders or attempt to break free of the tribe and risk the very real possibility of being ditched.
Regardless of whether we hate a Republican governor or a pro-abortion president or Hollywood or fundamentalism or “the system” or even a sports team, if our sense of belonging depends on that hatred, then second thoughts will flee, and stagnation will follow. The only way to reenergize and delay the inevitable endgame described by Robert Enright as “destruction, discouragement, and hopelessness” is to find a new hate to love. There must always be an Orwellian subject of revilement—an Emmanuel Goldstein toward whom we can direct a ready and visceral hatred, so our facsimile of love can feel fresh and new.
The most insidious part of this hate collective is how easily we can slip into its influence through the simple error of attaching real but disproportionate feelings of love onto things which are often ultimately meaningless: I love my politics so much that I must hate you for your policies; I love my church so much that I must hate you for not loving it. I love yogurt, cheese, and butter so much that I must hate you for being a vegan. I love my opinions so much that I must hate you for having your own.
If people are not going to reflect us back to ourselves—validate both the entire population we claim to represent and ourselves—what good are they? We shalt not have strange gods before us.
A few years ago a university study confirmed the old adage that there is “a thin line between love and hate.” It seems that the same brain circuitry is involved in feeling both emotions. The major difference is that, with feelings of love, a large part of the cerebral cortex shuts down, along with judgment and reasoning abilities. With hate, much of the cortex remains open.
This makes perfect sense, in a way. We can always give a million reasons to justify our hatreds, but our love? Often we cannot explain our love at all, except as an open and full-hearted mystery, just like the unfathomable mysteries of the God who is Love. This study also helps explain why unreasonable love can so often tumble into hate; and why hatred, once engaged by reason, finds it so difficult to break freely into love.
It is that thin, thin line between love and hate that can so confuse our sensibilities and thrust us so far apart from each other and perhaps ourselves. It leaves us convinced that we can make society more loving if only they—the backward people who do not understand all things as we do—will just embrace the correct ideas…and the idols they often lead us to.