“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
How many times have we heard that the problem with the world today is that we have forgotten how to love? It was over forty years ago that Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote What The World Needs Now Is Love, a song that contains the lines: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love./It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of . . .”
So the problem is not particularly new.
While I admire the sentiments of the song, I believe the problem is not that we have forgotten how to love, but that we have forgotten how to hate – righteous, clean, disinterested hate. Hate is a strong and provocative word and I neither invoke it lightly nor frivolously. I suspect that at first blush my belief may sound shocking, controversial, and even dangerous, but please bear with me and let me explain what I mean.
Evil currently stalks the world in many forms; and moral people, afraid of being poisoned by hate, have become indifferent to evil. We have forgotten how to hate and what to hate. Forgetting how to hate can be just as damaging as forgetting how to love. I realize that, immersed as we are in a culture that exhorts us to “turn the other cheek,” such a statement can sound quite absurd. We need to remember the wisdom found in the Talmud: “Those who are kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind.”
There is a hatred from which we instinctively recoil. In so many of its manifestations, hatred is ugly, vicious and destructive. It does fully as much harm to the subject as it does to the object. It is pitiful to think of people going down to the grave, nursing animosities that affect body, mind and spirit.
But are there not evils that should be hated – evils that should arouse in us both loathing and abhorrence? How can we look on war or racism or slums or prostitution or economic exploitation or murders in our cities with anything other than detestation? There is a hatred that is clean, disinterested and free from malice, what the writer of Psalm 139 calls a “perfect hatred.”
As he worked in the slums of London’s East End, Salvation Army General Bramwell Booth expressed that “perfect hatred” when he said: “My God, how I detest the enemy that has wrought this havoc.” Without such selfless and righteous indignation, evil goes unchecked and flourishes.
When one thinks of the great reformers, almost all of them without exception were passionate in their righteous indignation. That passion is indispensable to moral leadership. Think of those who have led the way in societal change:
- think of Amos, the Hebrew prophet, thundering against the oppression of the poor;
- think of Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk, assailing the evils of the Roman Catholic Church’s indulgence system;
- think of Dorothea Dix, the Roman Catholic social activist, dedicating her life to improving the care of the mentally ill;
- think of the Grimke sisters – Sarah and Angelina – the first white female abolitionists, crusading not only for the abolition of slavery, but also against the racism and sexism of mid-nineteenth century America;
- think of Rosa Parks, the woman whom the United States Congress called “The Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement,” refusing to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat on his bus. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott and launched Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence; and lest we forget,
- think of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant story-telling Jewish rabbi, taking a whip in his hands and driving out of the temple the moneychangers and those who sold oxen, sheep and pigeons – all of whom had made the temple “a den of thieves.”
Disinterested hatred has had a part in all beneficial reforms. Such hatred is not incongruous with love. Indeed, dare we describe as either loving or good anyone who is incapable of hating wrongdoing? Can we not say that hatred of evil is not only permissible, but also mandatory?
But I know that such a statement is difficult, for obviously there is a problem here. How can one hate and at the same time love? How can one be angry and at the same time just? How can one rise up in righteous indignation against some flagrant iniquity and at the same time preserve a loving spirit? To those questions, I would argue that hatred is a valid emotion – an appropriate response – when directed at the truly evil: at those who have gone far beyond the pale of human decency by committing acts that threaten the basic fabric of civilized living. I am particularly thinking of:
- the individuals who, for no apparent reason, lined up four teenagers in Newark, New Jersey, made them kneel against a wall, and then shot them in the head, execution-style; or
- the terrorists who flew airplanes into New York skyscrapers or the suicide bombers who planned to blow transatlantic commercial aircraft out of the sky, killing appalling numbers of people; or
- the white supremacists who dragged a black man three miles while tied to the back of a car; or
- the three terrorists who coordinated nail bombings in Belgium: two at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels. In these attacks, thirty-two victims and three perpetrators were killed, and over three hundred people were injured; or
- the extremists who attacked Istanbul’s airport and killed forty-seven people and wounded over two hundred; or
- the three suicide bombers who struck near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue in central Paris, killing 130 people; or
- the attackers in the deadly assault on a bakery/cafe in Bangladesh, killing at least twenty hostages, ending a nearly eleven-hour siege; or
- the Syrian dictator who is responsible for at least 250,000 deaths, twelve million more homeless, cities and historical treasures in ruins, the economy devastated, and no end in sight; or
- the twenty-nine-year-old American security guard, who killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three others in a terrorist attack – also considered a hate crime – inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; or most recently,
- the radicalized sniper who killed five Dallas police officers in the deadliest incident for law enforcement in the United States since 9/11 and the Kansas City, Missouri man who went on a shooting rampage that left two police officers, a sheriff’s deputy dead, and three others wounded in Baton Rouge.
Such people are irretrievably wicked. Such people are not just utterly irresponsible; they are deeply immoral and profoundly amoral. Therefore, not to hate such evil persons is itself evil and constitutes a passive form of complicity. We are obligated to despise and to resist such wickedness at all costs.
I know that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that the true object of proper hatred is the sin, not the sinner, whose life must be respected and whose repentance effected. But does this teaching apply to impenitent and hardened monsters who pay no heed to correction? For us to extend forgiveness and compassion to them in the name of religion is just insidious.
What is needed so badly in our time is a clean, disinterested hatred of evil. When one thinks of the wrongs that cry out to be set right, the apathy of the average person is really astonishing. Shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr began his dauntless fight for civil rights in the South, it shocked him that more support did not come from Christians, and in particular, from Christian clergy. In his book, Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King wrote: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the acts and words of the children of darkness, but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.”
What is the reason for such a timid, culpable, and criminal silence; for such a lack of righteous indignation; for such an absence of vigorous, passionate, and horrified protest; and for such a shortage of sharp, intelligent, and constructive criticism? Why are we so prone to sit back and to do nothing, content to tolerate existing wrongs and to take the line of least resistance?
I must admit that I do not have all the answers to those questions, but I do believe that when there is no passion, no white hot fervor, no ardent love of the right, and no burning hatred of wrong, we have become morally and spiritually flabby. In such a time, we need to be reminded that when the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt was falling into ruins, someone was brave enough to inscribe the following words on the side of a tomb: “No one was angry enough to speak out.” Those words are reminiscent of Dante Alighieri famous line: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
The lesson in all this should be clear: our moral flabbiness will not be averted unless there is an end to timid silence; unless there is a rebirth of moral conviction; and unless there is sharp, unsparing, intelligent criticism of irresponsibility and immorality. In a time when basic principles are treated with contempt, we need prophetic voices to confront real issues, arouse moral and social concerns, and bring to the surface all that is the deepest and best in each of us.
Robert F. Kennedy was one of those prophetic voices. During his 1968 presidential campaign, Kennedy was fond of quoting a daring line from George Bernard Shaw’s 1921 play, Back to Methuselah. Quoting Shaw, Kennedy said: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”
If we dare to dream of a world freed from inequity, oppression, war and exploitation, and if we hope for a world characterized by justice, freedom, peace and respect, then the question remains for us to answer: Why not? Why not, indeed!
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven . . . A time to love and a time to hate.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8