Do we always know hatred when we see it? Hear it?
I’ve been sitting with this question for several days, digesting all that Howard Thurman describes about fear, deception, and hatred in Jesus and the Disinherited. I’m weary and ready for a little bit of a break before summer term starts. But the question keeps arising…
The intensity of feeling associated with the word hatred suggests that its expression would be obvious. Sneering facial expressions. Loud, aggressive language, directed toward another human being, often in public. Physical violence, like in a hate crime. This is the popularized understanding or expectation of hatred, I think. It’s obvious, visible, violent, and dangerous.
But Thurman’s description doesn’t allow that as the only description of hate. Let’s remember his summary: “The outline is now complete and simple—contacts without fellowship developing hatred and expressing themselves in unsympathetic understanding; and unsympathetic understanding tending to express itself in the exercise of ill will; and ill will, dramatized in a man or woman, becoming hatred walking on the earth.” (Jesus and the Disinherited, 68).
Contacts without fellowship. Developing. Hatred emerges in unseen ways, in other words, from the inside.
Unsympathetic understanding. Having an understanding that does not allow the feelings of another, the experience of another...is not sympathetic.
Exercise of ill will. A feeling of animosity or anger, disregard of another human being, enacted in action or words spoken.
Ill will dramatized in a human being. These words and/or actions expressed in outward ways in the world.
In this sense, then, we don’t always see or hear hatred. It is present, operating, visceral when we are not necessarily aware of it in ourselves.
I found myself reflecting on this recently as I dipped into an online retreat gathering, hosted by two women whom I have appreciated deeply. One has crafted a communal space with her husband for circles of friends to gather in sacred practice--both in physical spaces and online. The other is new to me, but her work has already piqued my curiosity and tugged at my heart strings with an invitation into “structures for reverence” and into deeper listening for a “mystic family calling.” I will percolate with these gifts throughout this week, I’m sure, and I am already thankful to be in the flow of a new invitation with them both...
So imagine my surprise when my body felt the above-named energies of hatred in our Zoom gathering event. I was so stunned it actually took me several hours beyond the event to begin to put words to my experience. The woman doing the primary teaching for the event spoke with such barely hidden rage that I struggled to drop into a prayerful space in which to listen, to receive. My body was pulling back, trying to get distance though I was simply in my own space at home. Part of it was the utter disdain she named for “all the books written on this subject,” with condemnation of all of them for upholding the establishment, the church, modernity. I’ve learned to sense an emotional source of such broad generalizations, I guess, which does not discount the statements but does invite awareness of more than is immediately spoken.
She then delivered a critique against a totalitarian rule by the church (of the time in question) with a matching totalitarian refusal in her to consider not all the church was involved in the totalitarian rule. All churchmen/women of the time were evil, in her view. Claims made about the history of the matter at hand were delivered with little respect for how that knowledge was traditioned, received, digested, considered (by herself or others). Often, a brittle laugh would follow her words. Not an easy laughter. Not a laughter in which a community can share with ease. A laughter that shattered, was brittle, hard inside and outside. My body was seriously uncomfortable nearly the whole time this woman spoke.
Then it dawned on me. This is what hatred feels like…
...though surely this cannot be hatred?
This was an online gathering in which contacts were present, but little to no time was possible for fellowship. Some of the participants knew one another well, others did not know anyone there. The understanding of the historical figure in question and the challenges of the time came across (to me) as unsympathetic. Or at least unsympathetic to anyone but her own voice and view on the matter.
The gaping wounds inflicted on the human communities of the time--1400’s, to be clear--are horrifying, of course, particularly on the women. The anger, the rage, is understandable. Yet the understanding of the whole period she provided reeked with condemnation, judgment, even (ironically) damnation. Of them. Of the power-perpetrators. Then came repeated expressions of ill will toward all those who had borne this historical figure ill will and injury unto death. When these words were spoken, I knew it was hatred dramatized in a human being today.
So then I got curious about this hatred that is present but unforeseen, unsuspected, in persons who couldn’t possibly be haters. I mean, they’re simply so logical, rational, nice, polite, civil.
A neighbor down the hill from us with whom I’ve had polite chit-chat conversation. Contacts all around him named, but disdain and no sense of fellowship. Understanding? Within his allowances, sympathy, but outside those lines? Unsympathetic understanding. Did I experience ill will in him? He had experienced ill will during the pre-election season, he said, so he mirrored the ill will he had felt back to the neighbors who did not welcome his political solicitations. We had a neighborly conversation which I actually enjoyed, and yet its undercurrents have all the seeds of hatred.
And then, as ever, in the church…? In congregational settings then, today? Fellowship is a prime connector for congregational life. It’s one of the biggest reasons people join and stay connected within an ecclesial community. Contacts with fellowship. Understanding that sympathizes. Intentions to limit or lessen any sense of ill will. Except this seems to extend mostly to those already within the web of relationships known as the Fellowship, my church. Norms are usually well protected (Anyone ever heard “We’ve never done it that way before”?), and contacts beyond the fellowship are not a part of the fellowship. Understanding beyond one’s own--community or expectations within that community--easily becomes unsympathetic to anyone or anything but one’s own perspective. I’ll never forget the ill will expressed in a church leadership meeting, when a vote didn’t appear to be going the way this particular leader needed it to. Seeds of hatred seem ready for sowing, almost with any wind.
And what about within myself then? Where do I have contacts but without fellowship? More and more at my day-job, where we serve our students online and gather via online-technology for meetings. Rarely does the community gather together for fellowship, for communal worship. I have very little sense of fellowship with my faculty colleagues. What understandings do I hold that are ultimately unsympathetic to those whose experience differs from mine, whose choices differ from mine, whose opportunities differ from mine? I could provide a laundry list, particularly including those I find rigid in their expressions of faith, judgmental of others in their own wounded righteousness, insular in their practice out of perceived fidelity to their own. Even naming the laundry list brings the whiff of judgment, does it not? I cannot understand the rigid, the fundamentalist, the Evangelical whose refusals to see human beings beyond 'their categories' of sin and shame wounds so very many of us, for so very long...and I don't care to spend much time there with them. Exhausting, isn't it? So the seeds of hatred can emerge and multiply...in me.
I’m not sure all that I want to invite or express in these musings, except to draw attention in myself and in those I love these seeds that can ripen so immediately within us, or nearly everywhere around me, given the fragmentation of our world, the expanding diversity of our associations with the Internet, social media, the opportunities to know about others while not really knowing others in any fellowship kind of way. I want more and more of us to look for where we have contacts without fellowship, understanding that easily grows unsympathetic, ill will that can rise within us...all before any of us would ever act it out. It's still hatred, right within us.
These words are NOT to condemn this situation, in any of us. It’s all so understandable… Rage is collective grief refused, I’ve learned. The woman I describe above teaches from such raw pain, such urgent rage…Her anger--righteous and justified as it surely is--fires her urgency for new stories, different stories, to take hold in our world today. I share this anger, even this rage. Instead of the worn tropes of patriarchal religions and the horrific burnings of women in the middle ages, we both want a devotion to the feminine and to the Earth sorely lacking today. Instead of refusal and ill will experienced by my neighbor was his need for his world to be as he expected it to be. Congregations today are just as frail and flawed as any human collective has been over time. It’s easy to see contacts without fellowship, unsympathetic understanding and expressions of ill will arise when change happens or loss is regular, repeated, growing. This anger, even rage...this discontent or collective frailty is so very understandable...and I want to say legitimate. I know rage myself, after all.
But does rage legitimate hatred? Does hatred do the rage any good in the end? A familiar pathway at this point is to point out how hatred ravages the hater. In the end, this may well be true, but doesn’t answer the question. Thurman points out the fiery role that hate can play for the self-development of the hater, at least at first. If a woman is coming into her own voice for the first time, I dare say this intensity of feeling, this hatred, can fire her own becoming against systems slated to disregard her, disregard her experience. Hatred, in this instance, is not an unadulterated ‘bad’ thing. It’s a fire of self-becoming. [Ironically, a book I ordered weeks ago arrives just now: Rage Becomes Her: the Power of Women’s Anger...Soraya Chemaly].
Yet hatred for prolonged periods of time, particularly as it becomes directed outward, only seems to create more hatred, more disconnect, more contact without fellowship, unsympathetic understanding, more ill will...round and round and round it goes. Ultimately, hatred doesn’t invite the hater to sit deeply with the gaping wound…the pain experienced… Which I understand, sympathetically. :) Speaking for myself, I’m always afraid the pain will completely undo me. I have good reason to fear this, because at two different times, it almost did. But clearly, since I’m here writing about it, it did not ultimately undo me. Once hatred has worn a woman out, space may open for new approaches, different ways of holding and being held that suggest a different path, even a better way...
I landed in a container strong enough to hold contradictory human experiences, side by side and all night long. And I was loved beyond my anger. I was loved in my anger. I was accepted and welcomed despite my anger. By warrior women and mothering women, by nourishing men and wounded men. All in time that was never determined by me, or by them. And then I began to learn the gentling power of the pain underneath the anger, the collective holding that could dispel the rage I felt…
So I guess I want to ask this woman-teacher, in her raw pain… And anyone who has read this far…
What grief have you not allowed expression? What sadness is driving the anger? Can we begin to learn practices of trusting a container to hold each of us while the pain comes? Can we even let ourselves be held, letting the pain be transformed in us? For our civic settings then too… How do we learn together new containers beyond our current institutions of government-school-church, ones able to hold such volatile energies in streams of trust and fellowship? How do we invite each of us to sit with the pain that is ours, and ours alone, responsible only for our own pain? No blame, no shame, no guilt …?
What is the counsel of hope? Of growth? Of transformation? How do we come to trust that each of us can withstand the pain of our inherited-lineage wounds? That allowing this pain is the only longterm relief to be had? What is the saying? Pain not transformed is simply transmitted… More to the point here, for this particular context, how does a woman in such pain, well-versed in honing it, directing it, relying on it to teach others, come to know it need not be like that inside of her?
I dunno...but I’m listening, learning, wondering… I hope more and more will join me...