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Deacon Kyle Eller: When the accusation of hate is a weapon of hate

“Get used to replying to those poor ‘haters,’ when they pelt you with stones, by pelting them with Hail Marys.”

This quote from St. Josemaria Escriva seems useful these days when it is so easy to lose one’s peace.

Deacon Kyle Eller
Deacon Kyle Eller
Mere Catholicism

“Hate” is definitely one of the words of the moment, constantly being thrown around. This is often warranted. We have seen a resurgence in racism and other forms of bigotry (for example toward immigrants or particular religious groups). Too many horrors like the recent mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand come too easily to mind.

This truly is tragic and warrants our prayerful efforts at reconciliation and protecting the dignity of every human person, as well as our reflection on the causes, which I believe are to be found in a loss of a sense of God and therefore of meaning.

Yet it seems as if even more often the accusation of hatred is unwarranted. All too often the accusation is itself a form of hatred — a malicious lie meant to silence and demonize those with whom one disagrees.

To cite one prominent example among many, consider the Southern Poverty Law Center. Media darlings, this self-appointed tracker of “hate groups” is cited uncritically in countless articles.

Yet in 2012, a gunman shot up the office of the Family Research Council, wounding a security guard before he was overpowered and mass murder was averted. How did the domestic terrorist select this fairly ordinary evangelical Christian activist group as his target? He found it listed as a so-called “anti-LGBT hate group” on the SPLC website.

The SPLC’s claims that Christian beliefs about homosexuality and marriage don’t alone qualify one as a hater ring hollow with even a brief look at its website. Argue in public for the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about human sexuality or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops position on religious liberty and the SPLC will find a way to lump you in with the neo-Nazis and KKK groups they also track.

Consider one egregious example, its “hate group” label for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Part of SPLC’s indictment is the group’s association with Princeton Prof. Robert George and Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

I have followed George for years. Agree with him or not, he’s a paragon of reasoned civil discussion, even traveling the country with his friend, fellow professor, and ideological opposite Cornel West holding affectionate public debates. Glendon is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and an expert on human rights. Both are conspicuous for the way they uphold the dignity of the human person, including those with whom they disagree.

To see in such people something akin to Klan members requires an extraordinary degree of malice or ideological blindness or both. Unfortunately that is now commonplace.

What’s important, of course, is not to hate. But what does that even mean, given we seem to have lost a common definition of the term? One way to think of it is considering how we are to love — love even to our enemies.

Love means recognizing people as being made in God’s image and likeness, as creatures he deliberately willed into being as gifts, and whom he loved all the way to the cross. In human terms, that means willing the good of each person. Their good includes the necessities of a dignified life, such as shelter, food, meaningful work in which they use their gifts to contribute to the common good, safety. It includes the communion with God and other people that is part of human nature — including the rights, duties, and relationships among family, friends, and one’s neighbors. It includes respecting a legitimate freedom to seek the good and live and speak it — those rights of conscience.

That good ultimately includes friendship with God forever in heaven, hopefully right alongside us.

This is what the Catholic Church teaches us to seek for everyone, from the holiest saint to the most notorious sinner.

If hatred is something like the opposite of that, it means things like shunning, no-platforming, and silencing people, or trying to render them social pariahs. It means trying to deny them meaningful work and the necessities of life by making them unemployable or preventing them from operating businesses. It means wishing violence, death, or even hell on them. It means attempting to coerce their consciences. Unfortunately, by this definition there are hateful people of all political persuasions and of every race, sex, age, and religion. But what is striking is how well it describes many of the self-professed “resisters of hate” among us — especially those more accurately described as anti-Christian bigots.

This can be disturbing. I admit I let it bother me more than I should.

That’s why I think that quote from St. Josemaria is so helpful. If we bring ourselves to trusting prayer when confronting these things, we can regain our peace, turn it over to God, and let him work. In that way, we also short-circuit the responses of fear and anger and bitterness that may make it more difficult to love those who wish to be our enemies.

So let’s do as St. Josemaria counsels and “pelt” them with Hail Marys.

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected]