I talk a bit about emotional reactions to bad things, maybe reference childhood bullying. Hey, if you don’t like that, here’s a video of a panda sneezing.
27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
I grew up with these verses scored on my mind, with the notion that this idea would protect and comfort me from a childhood of casual violence. They are still easily brought to mind, in that King James lyrical way of half-remembered words, the not quite sure way I can conjure a host of Biblical verses to my mind. It’s a bedrock idea of modern Protestantism, too, the idea of enduring suffering is the correct response. When in doubt, invite more suffering. It’s a perspective that was probably super great for a human culture that needed to invite physical trauma in order to reproduce and died at the age of thirty-five.
It’s bullshit, by the way: You’re not obligated to hurt yourself to earn moral rightness. When you’re hurt, the correct response isn’t to wonder if somehow you didn’t suffer it right. Control over the oppressed’s responses is one of the many ways in which protestant values enable and encourage abusive power structures.
Of late, I see the line love beats hate or only love can beat hate. I feel like these are perspectives that work best when contending with human adults capable of feeling guilt and remorse for their actions, who see their victims as human – which is to say, not really the majority of the world’s hardcore racists. It’s an emotional framework useful for a reasonable world.
Yet I do like the idea that love beats hate… but I feel there’s an oversimplification in that reading. Love does best hate, in my experience, but not poured on the same source like oil on fire. Loving your enemies can bring with it poor decision making, it can expose you to further abuse and manipulation, and it can encourage you to be silent when the knives come out, because surely they would not. Surely if I see the humanity in these economically distressed neo-nazis, you may think to yourself.
The way your love can beat hate is when your love for the oppressed overwhelms your fear of the oppressor. The hatred of an oppressor is a limited reserve and mostly incarnates itself in violence thanks to extreme comfort. Police don’t commit violence against black youths seeing it as a risky action they must do for the good of society, but because they’re pretty sure they can get away with it and it doesn’t hurt anything. Hate is a good fuel to fill the tank when you need a burst but it runs low, it tires you out, it can destroy you, and if that’s all you’ve got, you run out.
You best hatred by loving the things hatred seeks to destroy – not the hateful. You don’t save the oppressed by loving the Nazis. You save the oppressed by loving them and doing what you can to take care of them – if that means standing in the way of a nightstick swung at a Muslim stranger or donating your money to legal funds or just bringing food and water and comfort to them.
And you, yes you, are one worthy of that same love.