Hatred and the Gospel

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Originally Published on ronrolheiser.com

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

There is a popular theme within Christian apologetics that goes something like this: Christianity is the most hated of all religions and that is a certain proof of its truth. The logic works this way: If we are so unfairly hated, we must be doing something right. Truth and innocence draw hatred. Jesus was hated, and so are we!

We need to be careful with that because, among other things, today, thanks to certain radical fundamentalists claiming to be Muslim, Islam is probably the most hated of all religions, and hated not because of what is true and best inside of it. Not only innocence and truth draw hatred. Being hated is not always a good sign or an indication that you (alone among the unfaithful) are holding to the real truth. It may be that you have made a vow of alienation rather than of love. Both eventually make you hated.

Being hated is only a criterion of carrying the truth if you have made a vow of love. Jesus wasn’t trying to be divisive and unpopular, he was trying to speak his truth in ways that precisely didn’t alienate and didn’t provoke hatred. But that isn’t always possible. He was trying to love others, purely and in the truth, but it eventually made him an object of hatred.

That isn’t surprising.

There is a certain proclivity within human nature to hate innocence and goodness. We see this illustrated in many books and movies. Notice how in so many stories that depict the struggle between good and evil, invariably, the bad will eventually train its sights on and fixate on what is its opposite, innocence and goodness. In most every dramatic epic, eventually the guns of the bad guys will end up trained upon the most innocent and loving person in town. It’s the saint who invariably bears the brunt of wound and hurt inside of a community. It is the saint who eventually is the scapegoat. It happened to Jesus. It happens to all goodness; by its stripes we are healed.


Because such is the anatomy of hatred. Hatred is a perverse form of love, love’s grief. It’s what love becomes when, because of wound and circumstance, it cannot be warm and reciprocal. Rollo May once famously stated that hatred is not the opposite of love. Indifference is. Hatred might instead be described as cold, wounded, frustrated, and grieving love, love gone sour. You can’t conjure-up a powerful hatred for someone unless at some level you first love him or her. When love is wounded and frustrated, the tears it provokes can be warm and cleansing, but they can also be bitter and cold. Cold grief. Hatred with its children, jealousy, bitterness, murderous feelings.

That’s part of the anatomy of love and that’s why love can so quickly turn into hatred and why most murders are domestic. When love breaks down what follows is rarely indifference (a parting in good friendship). What follows is often hatred, bitterness, coldness. Affairs mostly grow sour, not indifferent, and the same is, sadly, true of love in almost all its aspects.

What’s to be learned from this?

That hatred needs to be understood, whether it’s at a personal level or at the level of whole civilizations hating each other. Hatred is not the opposite of love. It is a perverse form of love, cold grief, bitter disaffection, that needs not to be met in kind, with a reciprocal form of coldness, but with warmth and forgiveness, tough as these are in the face of their opposite.

One of the great moral struggles of our lives lies precisely in this. When people hate us what spontaneous feeling rise within us? Feelings of coldness and anger, along with the wish, secret and not-so-secret, that their lives will go badly and that, in the ensuing misery, they will be forced to see their error and have to swallow against their will the fact that they are wrong, particularly about us. Hatred wants the other to choke on his or her own error.

But none of that will be productive for those who hate us, or for ourselves. Only if good things begin to happen in the lives of those who hate us, only if they feel the warmth of love and blessing, can their hearts let go of the bitterness, jealousy, and hatred that’s there. Hearts don’t thaw out inside of bitterness and jealousy. They break. It’s not when people are bitter that they admit the error of their ways and the unfairness of their hatred. Hearts begin to see how wrong their hatred is only when the very object of their jealousy and hatred is itself strong enough to not give back in kind, but instead to absorb the hatred for what it is, wounded love, love gone cold when it would want to be warm.

Leo Tolstoy once said: “There is only one way to put an end to evil, and that is to do good for evil.”