Monday, March 9, 2015

What Is Hate?

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, where it appeared on January 14, 2014.) 

SamElder just posted a fascinatingly inflammatory discussion about homosexuality at In this post I'd like to stick to the topic of hate.

I said that "Hate is a sin just like lust." SamElder replied that hate's not on the traditional list of the Seven Deadly Sins. I replied that hate's a combination of arrogance and anger, and sometimes sloth. 

For those who enjoy this kind of philosophical discussion, however, is that accurate? 

I am, of course, talking about consciously hating and deliberately harming people, as distinct from hating/disliking things. I don't think there's anything at all wrong with hating smog, or war, or littering, or when a typo pops up in a field you can't edit without destroying a whole file, or annoying TV commercials. This post is about the kind of feeling I have for e.g. my husband's ex-wife, or, worse, the one I could have (if I let myself) for other people who resemble her in some way, or, worse yet, for people who haven't done me any particular harm and don't really resemble anyone who has but who aren't part of a small group of people I might grudgingly manage to respect if I really believed that everything in life is "us against them."

It's not always easy to recognize hate in other people's behavior. Sometimes people don't speak, smile, or make eye contact with other people because they are polite and don't want to demand attention, and sometimes people (who normally call attention to themselves) don't speak, smile, or make eye contact because they really hate the other people in question, and would like to kill them by torture if they could. Occasionally we hear thoughtless people say "I hate you" when they mean "I actually like you, but I feel very envious of you right now"; usually we don't hear people say "I hate you" when they mean it seriously enough to do you any harm. Often it's easier, if we're willing to face the truth, to recognize hate in our own thinking.

(Tip: Catholics may be predisposed to think more in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins, Protestants may have a more diffuse list of things the Bible advises us not to do, and people from other religious traditions may have their own lists...don't Buddhists list 108 kinds of sin?)

If love in the sense of benevolence, seeking the Highest Good for all, is the quintessential virtue that can even be identified with God, wouldn't that make hate the quintessential sin, at the root of all the others, that can be identified with the Devil?

(I'm not trying to sabotage this discussion by dragging in the topic of what, if anything, is the Devil.)

Or do you take a more psychological view and understand hate as a pathological reaction to fear, rather than a sin?
If you think hate is a pathological emotion rather than a sin, what do you think of Al-Qaeda and the events of September 11, 2001? Were those acts sin? If so, where do you draw the line?