Avoiding the Pathogen of Hate

We are about to exit the flu season for this year, for which anyone who has had the flu may well be exceedingly grateful.  And we may all be grateful that the worldwide flu pandemic which many dread every year, and some feel is only a matter of time, didn’t visit us.  Not this year.  But flu is not the only dangerous and indeed deadly pathogen that threatens us.  At the moment we appear to be in the middle of an onslaught of hate: deadly, destructive hate that does not seem to be limited to any season.

Indeed, we seem to be suffering from a worldwide pandemic of hatred: screaming, angry vindictive and often deadly hate.  It is perhaps most evident to us right now in the United States because we happen to live here.  And it’s not just national, it’s local.  A Redmond mosque was defaced, repaired and defaced again.  Just this week a Kent man, a Sikh, was shot outside his own home after being told to “go back to your own country.”  Yesterday a Jewish Temple in Seattle was defaced.

Given comfort and cover by the Hater in Chief, bigots appear to be climbing out of the woodwork.  Muslims are targets.  Hispanics are targets.  Sikhs are targets.  Jews are targets.  Women are targets.  People of differing orientations are targets.  And the list keeps getting larger.  And as horrific as this is, it is not illogical that the list continues to grow.  There is a reason.  Hate … is … contagious.  We saw it spread in the UK after the Brexit vote.  We see it in France.  And that’s just Europe.  The madness is worldwide.

So what do we do about it?  How do we react?  For me this is a crucial and paramount question, because I strongly believe that hate is indeed a pathogen.  I believe to my core that if we do not take steps to build up our own immune systems that hate will infect us.  Not “them” whomever we are calling “them” at the moment; but us.  Hate will infect us.  You and me.  So what I want to be speaking about this morning are some thoughts not only on how we might begin to stem this pandemic, but also how to build up our own resistance to that highly contagious pathogen: hate.

Oh come on, is that really a problem?  Is it?  We are such compassionate, loving people here, and I’m not joking!  This is a wonderful group.  Are we all really in danger of being infected?  I believe the answer is an emphatic yes.  And I believe it is when we think of hate and its co-pathogens fear and intolerance as weaknesses, something “those people” suffer from, that not only our country but we ourselves are the most at risk.

So let’s do some digging.  That’s what I’ve been doing this past week and a half.  And that’s what got me into a bit of trouble.

I tend to use the words hate and fear almost interchangeably because I believe them to be siblings: blood relatives.  Even so, it’s important to note that they are different.  Indeed, it is the way that they are different that became more and more apparent to me as I pondered it this past week.  As I see it, fear and hate are like cause and effect.  Yes, related; but different. So to have any hope of coming to grips with hate, we must also at the very same moment tackle fear.

I believe that for the most part, for the most part, fear drives hate.  It’s not the other way around.  Hate does not drive fear.  We do not become fearful because we hate.  We become infected with hate because we are filled with fear.  Both, then, are dangerous – but fear is the driving danger.

As an obscure and aging Interfaith minister once said, “Whether we are consumed by hate or consumed by fear, in the end we are someone else’s dinner.”  Or, to put it in different words, one of the surest ways to surrender our freedom is to be ruled by fear and driven by hate.

Demagogues have long known this.  To a control a people: fill them with fear, nurture their hate, and then point at “the enemy.”  “It’s their fault.”

It goes in that order.  I would suggest that one reason for this is that fear is socially unacceptable.  Fear is seen as a sign of weakness.  People may call hatred horrible or disgusting, but how many call it weak?  How many see hate as a sign of weakness?  Thus hate is fear given a culturally acceptable form.  Then, all we have to do is rationalize it.  “We hate because” … easy as pie.

No one is immune.  No one.  This is a pathogen that knows no political favorites.  Trump, Cruz and the rest of the Republicans got all the press.  But go back and read what so many of the Clinton people said about Sanders people, and what so many of the Sanders people said about Clinton people.

And still do.  It’s hateful stuff.  Hate is contagious.  Contempt and intolerance are contagious.  And remember, it begins with fear.  The breeding ground is fear.

So the first step, if you will, in vaccinating ourselves against becoming hate-filled and intolerant is to recognize and guard against our own fears.

I’m remembering some words my father said to me a long, long time ago.  Dad and I disagreed about a lot of things, but in this I thought him quite wise.  “Be fearless,” he told me.  “Don’t be stupid, but be fearless.”

I would suggest this: that a person filled with hate, however strong he or she may appear to be, is in fact desperately afraid.  And if we hope to turn down the hate we must deal with the fear behind it.  Thus, despite the title of this sermon, if we are even to begin to deal with any success with the pandemic of hate, and the intolerance and rage that stem from it, we must realize that hate is in point of fact the symptom … the symptom, not the disease.  If we would deal with the disease we must deal with fear – our own fear, and the fears of those around us.

Ok.  Suggestions????

Dr. King famously said that “Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”  I believe he was right and that a basic reason he was right is that the only way to successfully address another person’s fear is with love.  Not shouting.  Not anger.  Love.

As we read together earlier, the Dhammapada of Buddhism agrees, saying, “Never does hatred cease by hating in return; only through love can hatred come to an end.”

Now this is not to say that there aren’t people who preach hate and fear to further their personal power and their own agenda.  We know there are.  We hear them, almost daily, preaching fear.  But we make, I believe, a huge mistake when we treat the people they reach as hateful.  I do not believe they are hateful.  I believe they are fearful.  It is the fear, it is always the fear that we must address – including the fear within our own hearts and minds.  And that can only be done with love.

Love.  Some will see this as weakness.  Indeed, there was a time when I did.  But not now.

When I was a child, and indeed when I was a young man.  Ok.  Even when I was a middle-aged man I was baffled by something that Jesus is reported to have said.  “Love your enemies.”  What the heck?  “Pray for those who persecute you.”  Oh sure.  That’ll help.  Not!

These days I feel I understand it better.  For me it is “Love your enemies, lest you become them.  For fear and hate are contagious and deadly.”

Love your enemies, lest you become them.  Loving your enemy is being proactive, not passive.  Fear feeds on fear.  Hate feeds on hate.  It’s time to put both hate and fear on a diet! – a loving diet.

The power of love over fear and hate is something that Martin Luther King Jr. showed us.  It is something Mohandas Gandhi showed us.

And we can follow in that example.  Even today.  Indeed, as we face a decidedly difficult future, I feel we must follow that example – not only to overcome those who hate, but lest we become hate-filled and lose ourselves.

One small thing that happened recently gave me some optimism and I’d like to share it.  Many of you may know that I recently organized and led a gathering and march, right here in Lynnwood, in support of our Sioux brothers and sisters at Standing Rock.  I was deeply concerned because, just a few weeks before, a friend had led a march in Seattle in support of refugees and it had been overwhelmed with bad feelings and hateful speech.  We live in an angry, angry time.

Now to be fair, much of the time there is justification for that anger.  In my opinion the government and the police in North Dakota have acted outrageously.  Once again, to advance the profits of the white elite, our indigenous peoples are being kicked to the side of the road … at gunpoint.  Angry?  Yes.  Give in to the anger?  No.

The Seattle City Council, bless them, had taken a stand.  But I don’t live in Seattle.  I put together the march so that we might present to the Lynnwood City Council a proposed proclamation of support for Standing Rock.

But could we do that in this day?  Amidst so much anger, could we gather and march lawfully, peacefully and, if you will, lovingly?  Could we do it?

The answer is yes.  Thirty-five people got together and marched in peace and with love.  I share this with you because it fills my heart to brimming.  We can do this.  We can.

The Lynnwood City Council will consider our request.  I don’t know what their answer will be, though I will by the next time we meet.  But this much I can say.  We had a cause about which all of us were and are deeply passionate.  We marched for justice, with signs and with purpose … and with love.

How do we move forward in the difficult times ahead?  We move forward with love – with determination and passion … and love.

How do we fight fear?  Not with anger and not with hate: but with love.

Jesus mentioned that we should turn the other cheek.  But I would note that he does not talk about retreating.  Turning the other cheek does not involve standing down.  Turning the other cheek does not involve giving up or giving in.

Gandhi did not stand down either.  He marched.  He too turned the other cheek.  He never lifted his arms in anger, but neither did he stop marching for justice.  He marched with love and without violence, but he marched.

A few hundred years ago, Thomas Paine wrote that “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  I believe we have reached such times again.

Evil must be resisted.  Hate and the fear that spawns it must be resisted.  That said, we need to recognize that it won’t be easy and it won’t be swift.  It will take time.  It will take effort, persistence and dedication and yes, boundless love.  And yes, there will be setbacks.  Yet I believe they can be overcome.  But if we would be successful in resisting hatred and fear in others, we must guard against it in ourselves.  The vaccine is love.  The vaccine is love.

Amen.

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