The Wiles of Hatred

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:15

Hatred, also known as malevolence or malice, is simply the desire for destruction and harm in someone else’s life. Since it involves a desire for such a thing, it will usually involve the taking of pleasure in such harm when it accomplished (or at least when thinking of it). Hatred is ill will. When you love someone you have goodwill toward them. You want good things for them. When you hate someone, you want bad things for them. It’s common these days to think of archetypal evil more in terms of indifference than hatred, the symbol of which is the psychopath. But the psychopath doesn’t hate. He is just emotionally indifferent about the suffering of others, though it is also true that some of what looks like indifference is really disguised hatred. However, hatred is the more dangerous and the more potent evil, because normal people are vulnerable to it and it destroys souls far more easily than emotional indifference about the pain of others. Nobody is damned or even judged based on feeling a lack of emotion at someone else’s suffering. This is a false sin. People have no control over how much sympathy they feel, which is why they won’t be judged for that, but they will be judged based on what they do (and based on what emotions they indulge in their thoughts and actions). True compassion is located in the will and action, not in feeling. Someone who feels sympathy and does nothing is not righteous and has done nothing praiseworthy. The one who feels no sympathy but does something based on what he believes to be right, is righteous and has done something praiseworthy. So people are not condemned for lacking emotions, but they will be condemned for hatred. People do not please God by feeling empathy, but by acting compassionately. If you have feelings of empathy, by all means put them to good use, and they are a blessing, but no one is morally good merely for feeling them.

It is possible for people to be misanthropes and to hate life or human existence in general and delight in wanton destruction. It is also possible for people to become hateful as a result of envy or jealousy. Maybe the most common way that ordinary people will find themselves embroiled in hatred, and a particularly potent form of it, is through unforgiveness. It is very unfortunate that the idea of hatred has been politicized, usually in service of identity politics and with reference to far-right extremism. One rarely hears it condemned anymore outside of political discourse. This is a very, very bad thing, because hatred itself is non-political and so for people to lose the grace of knowing it as a non-political moral concept, means that they will be more vulnerable to it in life or more easily seduced by it.

Hatred can also be disguised as civic concern. People find many excuses to despise each other in the name of political and social causes. This is because they make the accomplishment of political and social goals more important than the individual’s duty to love neighbour as self. They should also realize that a good society is not made primarily by the best political policies, but by the love and virtue of its people. Hatred can be disguised as the concern of Christian faith, as the faithful forget the command to love and be merciful and use sin, apostasy, unbelief and heresy as appropriate ground for the desire harm and destroy. Racial and cultural differences can be a source of hatred, which will also present as a concern about what’s right. Finally, it is possible for disgust and shame to be a source of hatred. People become objects of hatred because they are less than ideal in some way or another, for example because they are ugly, stupid, poor, emotionally or physically weak, sick, disabled, maimed and disfigured etc. People can become objects of hatred because they don’t obey certain social mores ( for whatever reason), which may be moral or non-moral. For example, if people have poor hygiene, they smell, they belong to the wrong social class, they’re uneducated or ignorant about things that you’re expected to know about, they have the wrong accent, they dress unconventionally or in a way that associates them with the wrong people, or they do other things in a way that goes against social convention, these can become sources of hatred for them. Anything that undermines social niceties or that cracks the social facade is a source of shame to people and thus a source of hatred for those who cause it. Western culture is very individualistic, so this is not such a prominent cause of hatred anymore, but it still has an impact ( though more so in collectivist cultures). None of this is to say that political disagreement is wrong, or that rebuking people for faithlessness and apostasy and sin is wrong (including redemptive excommunication), or that rebuking people for failing to obey (good) social mores, is wrong. Social conventions help us live in harmony and it is bad to undermine them without good reason, because you end up needlessly being a stumbling block to people. It is also not to denigrate the important work of law enforcement, though it is also possible for the officers of the law to hate criminals in their hearts, which they shouldn’t do. There is a seed in all these sources of condemnation, which can quickly sprout something very evil. All of these sources of condemnation can easily get out of hand, can become matters of hatred. And when that happens, those who have allowed themselves to be seduced by hatred will earn God’s hot displeasure. 

For the Christian, hatred is utterly anathema. The apostle John warns that the person who hates does not have eternal life (1 John 3:15), which means that hatred is an eternal sin ( it is not forgiven by God insofar as it is indulged). The meaning here is that you cannot have eternal life as long as you hate.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

1 John 4:20

Why is unforgiveness such a potent well-spring of hatred? That may be because the Lord Jesus pronounced an extremely severe curse on unforgiveness. It is a sin that is not forgiven, an eternal sin (Matthew 6:15). Insofar as you do not forgive you won’t be forgiven, but when you do forgive then you can be forgiven. This means that God does not look with any mercy on a heart resolute in its unforgiveness. He gives it over to darkness.

Hatred very often dresses itself up as some sort of moral concern, which makes sense because in order to become established in a community or society, it must first make itself socially acceptable. Few people will accept raw ill will with no moral rationale. The primary guile of hatred is fairness or justice. This is by no means to suggest that any complaint that appeals to fairness or justice is automatically motivated by hatred, but when there is hatred, it will often try to disguise itself as a concern for justice and any complaint that appeals to justice can become hatred even if it was not so in the beginning. Hatred arising from unforgiveness will clearly appeal to justice, though what it means by justice is really revenge. Hatred arising from envy and jealousy will also appeal to notions of fairness, that it is wrong in some way or another for someone else to have something but for me not to have it. Ironically, compassion is also a disguise of hatred. People who are in the grips of unforgiveness or jealousy will want others to join them in their hatred, believing that if someone else hates the person who wronged them, this is a sign of compassion or sympathy for their hurt. And there are some who have a twisted notion of compassion, who will encourage people in their hatred, believing that they are being sympathetic in doing so. A compassion that encourages hatred, even if there is genuine goodwill in it, is ultimately a perversion. These people who join you in your hatred and encourage your hatred are seen as taking your suffering seriously and taking seriously the fact that it is someone specific who caused it. They will seem to really care about you and perhaps they truly do and are truly well-intentioned. However, it is still true that the demonic is working through them to establish the lie in your life and, when it is established, it will wreak destruction. Someone who encourages forgiveness, the voice which opposes your hatred will seem callous and unsympathetic. It will seem not to take your suffering seriously, and will seem not to take seriously that someone specific caused it. And perhaps there is even some true callousness in it. However, at the end of the day, a lie wrapped in sympathy is far worse than the truth stained by callousness, though it is clearly better for truth to be delivered with sympathy.

Another important disguise that hatred wears, which I wanted to add after publishing this post, is opposition to hatred. Isn’t that a clever disguise, for hatred to make itself into the cure and remedy for hatred? When someone is identified as hateful, they are then regarded as appropriate targets for any ill will you have. As long as the focus is on one way of being hateful, hatred can very easily creep into the response to it.

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