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Hatred,” says psychologist Robert Enright, “has a long shelf life. Once it enters into the human heart, it’s hard to get it out. It breeds destruction, discouragement, and hopelessness.”

Enright hails from the University of Wisconsin, in the so-called “liberal enclave” of Madison, where ongoing demonstrations by members of public employee unions against the elected governor have put some vivid moments of hatred on view. Reporter Mike Tobin of Fox News remarked, “A teacher was giving me the business yesterday, and the teacher told me she hates me because it makes her feel good” (emphasis mine).

Anyone who has ever been targeted by a pack of bullies understands. Venting hatred, especially under the righteous cover of a “cause,” gives one a sense of belonging and purpose and—quite unlike love—it does so in an expeditious and rather painless way. Mob-supported hatred removes openness from the social equation, and that in turn takes away vulnerability, leaving one with a powerful sense of communal well-being that can serve as a reasonable facsimile of being loved by others. One loves one’s hate because it makes one feel beloved.

On the surface, attaching oneself to a hate-collective seems a safe way to belong. One feels invited to the party; one no longer has to think for oneself, or worry about individual appearances or instincts. To continue to fit-in, to feel as if you were truly loved, all one needs to do is continue to hate—and that not even willingly.

This hate that feels like wide-open love is paradoxically limiting and self-defeating. Once hatred has become one’s social vehicle of choice, the travel options become limited: either stay the course and wear the peripheral blinders or attempt to break free and risk the very real possibility of being altogether ditched.

Regardless of whether one hates a Republican governor or a pro-abortion president or Hollywood or “fundamentalism” or “the system” or even a sports team, if one’s sense of belonging depends on hatred, then second-thoughts will flee and stagnation will follow. The only way to re-energize and to delay the inevitable endgame described by Enright as “destruction, discouragement, and hopelessness” is to find a new hate to love.

Hence, hating George W. Bush begat hating Sarah Palin, begat hating Christine O’ Donnell, begat hating Michele Bachman, begat hating Scott Wilson. Hating Bill Clinton begat hating Hillary Clinton begat hating Michael Moore, begat hating Bill Maher, begat hating Barack and Michelle Obama. In the hate-collective there must always be an Emmanuel Goldstein in order for love to feel fresh and new.

Now, some will say that these figures have earned a measure of distrust, which justifies the hate. But distrust is such a subjective and selective thing; if distrust is the acceptable impetus for hate, then anyone may claim justification for feeling and encouraging virulent (and eventually violent) hatred of others.

A racist can justify his racism by claiming a “reasonable distrust” against another race simply by pointing to history. A homophobe can rant at gays because he “distrusts” their proclivities; a Jew could hate a German because he doesn’t trust him not to regret Auschwitz. As we see in Great Britain, where a Pentecostal Christian couple has been excluded from the foster care system because they cannot affirm the homosexual lifestyle, the distrusting conventional wisdom—in this case distrusting a Christian’s ability to care well for children—can discriminate against whoever is not falling in line, and that discrimination can even be legislated into law.

The most insidious part of this Borg-like hate collective is how easily one can slip into its influence through the simple error of attaching real but disproportionate feelings of love onto things which are often illusory and ultimately temporary. I love my politics so much that I must hate you for your policies; I love my church so much that I must hate you for not loving it as intensely; I love the promise of my pension plan so much that I must hate you for pointing out that it is unsustainable; I love my opinions so much that I must not allow you to have opinions of your own.

Hatred is a twisting perversion of paradoxes wherein one can claim a love for God so fervent that it justifies hating another, even as God hates your hate, because it has been born of the absolute idol one has made out of one’s professed love.

A few years ago a university study confirmed the old adage that there is “a thin line between love and hate.” It seems that the same brain circuitry is involved in feeling both emotions, the major difference being that with feelings of love a large part of the of the cerebral cortex shuts down, along with judgment and reasoning abilities. With hate, much of the cortex remains open.

This makes perfect sense, in a way. We can always give a million reasons justifying our hate to others, but our love? Often we cannot explain our love at all, except as an open and full-hearted mystery, just like the unfathomable mysteries of God, redemption and mercy.

This study also helps explain why unreasonable love can so often tumble into hate, and why hatred, once engaged by reason, finds it so difficult to break freely into love.

It is that thin, thin line between love and hate that can so confuse our sensibilities, and thrust us so far apart from each other, and perhaps ourselves.

Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.


John Allen on Robert Enright in Rome.
The science of the thin line between love and hate.

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