What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is unbelievable – white nationalists gathering with neo-Nazis chanting slogans against Jews, blacks, and anyone else different from themselves. This is not Nazi Germany in the 1930s. This is not 1960 in the deep south. This is not 1980 South African apartheid. This is the United States in 2017. Yet once again we see our human fallenness. Hatred. Deep-rooted anger. Utter disdain for the other. All under-girded with fear.
No matter how much we progress in modern technology, and no matter how much we want to think that humanity has progressed, moments like this remind us that human beings haven’t changed much in our hearts. Our fallen human nature, where we are tempted to turn away from God – and whenever we turn away from God, we turn away from one another – is still the greatest challenge we face as human beings. Back during the Cold War, Aleksander Solzhenitzyn, the great Russian intellectual and writer, said it well: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”
The line that separates good from evil, the line between love and hatred, the line between peace and fear runs through the heart of every human being.
Think about what happened in Charlottesville, and let us ask ourselves, “Why? Why do we choose to hate others? Why do we choose to hate others whom we don’t even know? Why do we choose to hate entire groups of people?”
Hate is always wrong, but we try to justify hating another because of something they have done to us. Yet, how do we justify hating an entire group of people? Most of the time, we don’t even know any, or very few, people from that group. How many white nationalists have black or Hispanic friends? How many have Jewish or Muslim friends?
We gather together with those who seem most like ourselves, with those who think like us and believe like us. Today’s internet has made it all the more easy to simply read news that tells us what we want to believe, and to connect with people who think just like ourselves.
Yet, is this the Christian way? Is this the path that Christ challenges His followers to take? When the Apostle Paul wrote to the early Church 2000 years ago and said, “In Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman, male nor female,” he helped the Church adopt a radical new perspective in which to see the world. Ethnicity, social class, and gender differences need not separate us. Jesus Christ unites us with one another. We are called to accept the love of God or, better yet, to allow God’s love to reign in our hearts. His love is a love that unites us to one another. That helps us to see the beauty and good in the other.
God’s divine love creates space where we welcome the stranger in our home and go from being stranger to friend.
God’s divine love confronts the hatred we have in our hearts and heals us from the root causes of hatred.
Think about it. Why do people hate, even those they don’t even know?
Is it fear? Do we create an image of the other that seems so monstrous that it’s easy to despise and hate people different from ourselves?
Well, our Lord says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. I have not only created you, but also the other in my own image and likeness. If each of you are created in my image and likeness, then you have much in common. Don’t be afraid of your differences. Reject the caricatures of others. Instead, look carefully and closely, and you will discover my image in them. Look for my beauty in the other, even in those who seem so different from yourself!”
Do we hate because of our ego? Our ego wants to focus only on ourselves and make the world revolve around us. Our ego tempts us to deny the others and treat them as something different. Yet, Christ challenges our ego-centrism when He says we have to learn to deny ourselves, even crucify our ego, and live a life of the Cross, a way of self-sacrifice, a radical love for others.
Hatred often comes from our own insecurity. We do not feel comfortable with who we are, and need to attack others who seem so different than we are. By putting others down, we somehow feel it lifts us up.
Jesus’ entire message, however, is one where He constantly reminds us how much He loves us and how He always will stay with us. “I have created you in the palm of my hand. I know the number of hairs on your head. I know you. I love you. I am the loving Father who will never forget His prodigal son, but I wait to welcome you back home. To receive you as my child. To give you the best robe. The ring. The identity as my beloved heir.”
Hatred often comes from real or perceived injury and hurt. And from this place of injury, we respond with anger, hatred, and bitterness. We don’t want to forgive, yet only in forgiveness will true healing and peace come.
Our Lord, however, reminds us that we have to forgive seventy times seven times, that only when we forgive can we open our hearts up to receive God’s forgiveness and mercy and healing grace. Holding on to bitterness is like holding on to poison. Christ offers us healing through His mercy, and through the mercy we show to others.
Archbishop Anastasios says that “the radioactivity of hatred” has poisoned the world. We must overcome this radioactivity of hatred with divine love. Only by being filled with God’s love, and becoming instruments in reflecting His love back to the world, can we ever hope to bring light into our darkened hearts, and into the dark places of the world!
Let me conclude with Nelson Mandela’s famous words: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”