by Michael Maciel
What is the one thing you hate the most? What more than anything else will cause you to hate someone, possibly forever? In other words, how are enemies created?
Learning how to create something is the first step in gaining power over it. If you learn how to create hatred, you are that much closer to learning how to un-create it.
Wouldn’t it behoove you to learn how to un-create the hatred in yourself? If you could, then you could un-create it in others.
But first, you must first understand how hatred comes into being. So, again, I ask you, what is the one thing you hate the most? What more than anything else will cause you to hate someone, possibly forever? Answer this, and you will have the power of life and death over hatred.
If you know what you hate the most, there is a 99.9 percent chance that it’s the same thing everyone else hates, too. Know yourself, and the chances are good that you will understand your fellow human beings. All of them. We’re just not that different, especially when it comes to core issues like hatred. What you hate the most, everyone else hates as well. Know what it is, and you possess the key to creating peace in the world.
The premise here is an easy one: the word “love” conceals more than it reveals. It simply covers too many meanings for it to be meaningful. Did you know that the Eskimo Indians have fifty words for “snow”? It’s because snow is such a large part of their lives. And yet, we only have one word for love. Is it any wonder why “Love your enemies” as a Christian principle is so universally avoided?
When the meaning of a word obscures the reality behind it, sometimes it’s true meaning can be ascertained by examining its opposite. The opposite of love, however, is not hate. Neither is it indifference, or the verb form of indifference, “to ignore.” While being ignored isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t usually cause us to endlessly hate the person who ignores us.
But what is it that will cause us to hate the other person, and not just in the moment but for the rest of our lives? Whatever that is, it would certainly be at the heart of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Love your enemies.” He must have understood it. He must have had the deepest insight into the nature of hatred in order to utter the three most paradoxical words in the Gospels: “Love your enemies.”
That one passage, while seemingly unworkable in the extreme, nonetheless cannot be discarded, no matter how hard we try. Intuitively, we know that it is the lynchpin that holds the entire Christian message in place. In fact, without it, Christianity falls apart. Unless it’s there, doctrines become nothing more than statements of tribalism – “us against them.”
And what assurance do we have that if we love our enemies that they will love us back? If we lay down our guns, won’t they take advantage and kill or enslave us? What possible benefit is there in that? “Love your enemies” is, therefore, nothing more than a suicide pact, or, worse yet, the manifesto of a coward. Who could possibly take it seriously?
Or so it seems. And the only way it can seem that way is if you make false assumptions about what it means to “love” your enemies. But what else can you do when you’re using a word that has only one meaning?
What are your false assumptions? One is that you think it means that you have to be nice to those who intend you harm. Kiss them on the cheek. Agree with their ideology. Let them have whatever they want. No wonder “Love your enemies” sounds like the philosophy of a fool. But this is because the word “love” is so misunderstood. And why is it misunderstood? Because it hasn’t been linked to the roots of hatred. If you know how to create hatred, you know how to un-create it.
The other false assumption about “Love your enemies” is that when you do, you will no longer have them—your enemies will suddenly become your friends. Again, this is another sharp departure from reality. We will always have enemies, if not mortal ones, ones with whom we compete, either philosophically, commercially, or socially. In a world of competing interests, enemies are inevitable. It would be stupid to ignore them. And one thing we can pretty much say with certainty is that Jesus was not stupid. Why, then, would he attach unrealistic expectations to the most important part of his message?
So, the question becomes, “How do we deal with our enemies as enemies?” If we’re not trying to magically transform them into friends, what are we trying to transform them into? Are we trying to transform them into anything at all? Besides fertilizer, I mean. How can we possibly “love” our enemies on the battlefield, on the street, or on the floor of Congress? Is this hopelessly paradoxical, or is there something to it that actually works?
If “Love your enemies” doesn’t magically transform them into friends, it must at least help remove the hatred. In other words, it must undermine and eventually remove the cause of hatred, which in turn would help to eliminate the endless cycle of war. Imagine that. Imagine a world in which war was rare. But, that’s not the case, is it. Wars are endless because they’re being fueled by hatred. Not just the hatred that flares up over a disagreement, but the kind of hatred that endures, sometimes for centuries. It’s hatred that’s the problem, and we can’t get rid of it unless we understand it in ourselves.
So again, I ask you (for the last time), what is the one thing you hate the most? What more than anything else will cause you to hate someone, possibly forever?
Humiliation is the one thing that the human heart cannot forgive. If there is such a things as a “sin against the spirit,” it is humiliation. It makes us more than just angry; it makes us hate. And it makes us hate with a hatred that lasts for generations.
Christianity is a major world religion. It is based on the teachings of one of the most intelligent people who has ever lived. Does it not make sense that the concept of “Love your enemies” would reflect the deepest and most profound truth, and that that truth would be complex enough to cover the full range of human experience? Does it not make sense that the limitations of language would be the chief reason why such a truth would be dismissed out-of-hand by the worldly wise? Does it not make sense that out of such a fundamental, deeply profound truth would come the noblest traditions devised by humanity, such as chivalry, international laws against war crimes, commonly accepted rules of engagement, and the reconstruction of vanquished lands, as in the Marshall Plan in WWII?
Is it possible to have enemies without demonizing them? Is it possible to acknowledge that their cause is as noble in their eyes as yours are to you? Can you fight someone, even to the death, without hating them? By doing so, would it not preserve the most valuable part of you, your SOUL, and not make your physical body the bottom line? Can you live in a world where life and death are so inextricably intertwined without losing your soul?
Are you physical or spiritual? Which is the more important part? If the physical part of you is your highest ideal, then it makes sense to destroy your enemies utterly, not just their bodies but their spirit also. But do you not see that this is what perpetuates wars, that this is what causes unending hatred?
So, let’s recast the mandate in more accessible, albeit negative, terms. We do this because of the limitations of the word “love”:
Do not demonize your enemies.
Do not strip your enemies of their dignity.
Do not call them inhuman.
You can beat them into the ground, but then help them get back on their feet.
You can burn their crops, but not their seeds.
You can beat them in battle, but do not rape them or kill their children.
Do NOT kill civilians.
Do NOT kill the unarmed.
Do NOT destroy their culture or their holy places.
Do NOT, Do NOT, Do NOT humiliate them.
All of these negatives are implied in the one, simple statement, “Love your enemies.” This is not theology; it is the wisdom of the heart. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just consider the source—it takes a certain amount of faith to accept that Jesus would not have given us a precept that was unworkable.
We will always have enemies, but will we always have hatred?