Hate is a tricky thing. For hatred to seriously work, you need someone hating you back, or else your projected hate is pantomime. Of course, there are various types of hatred, some more righteous than others (hating racism is better than hating another's pigment), but on the whole, most people think of hatred as an exchange of negative, bilious emotions. As Bernardo succinctly put it to the Jets right before they and the Sharks rumbled in "West Side Story", "Look, everyone of you hates everyone of us and we hate you right back."
But what do you do when the object of your hatred responds with kindness, forgiveness, or God forbid, love? You can try to amplify your hatred, make it more extreme, yet if the person you hate refuses to join in and turns the other cheek, well, you're sunk. You may as well slap on some whiteface and silently pretend to walk against the wind.
I've been thinking a lot about hatred lately, hard to avoid given our present political/social culture; and when the news that four Western Christian pacifists were kidnapped by yet-another Iraqi shadow gang, I knew that their plight would be met stateside by a chorus of nativist howling and grossest contempt. Touring many rightwing sites (a necessary evil in this case, I'm afraid), much of the commentary, when not gleeful that these pacifists were getting theirs, was sadistic and openly pro-torture and death. I won't link to some of the uglier threads (I'm sure you can guess which place boasted the vilest rhetoric), but you can get a sense of what's being said online here, though I notice that the person who runs this site felt the need to distance himself from some of his crazier readers, but gently, gently. Don't wanna be too tough on your regulars, no matter how psychotic they appear.
But for pure whacked out hatred, the top prize this week goes to FrontPage for Ben Johnson's delightful piece, "Reaping What They Sow." (Get it? See, they're Christians, and in the Bible it says . . .) Far from the meek, peace-loving activists these four hostages claim to be, Johnson reveals that they are in fact terrorist "enablers" whose organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, has a long track record of coddling anti-American, Jew-hating scum. They even protested in front of Fort Benning's School of the Americas (where Good Torture is taught), which further demonstrates their treason! And so on. David Horowitz's gang of hacks can play only one note, but they play it well and with true gutter feeling. I can see why someone like Christopher Hitchens has a warm spot for FrontPage. Though semi-literate in execution, Horowitz and company sling invective and slander like few others can or would wish to try. It verges on performance art -- the kind that employs feces and bodily fluids, that is.
Amid all this, you know that those four hostages, however frightened, are holding on to their faith, as are their comrades at CPT. At least that's what I suspect. I've known plenty of Christian pacifists over the years (indeed, I married one), and they are the steadiest souls I've ever encountered. Unlike many mainstream Christians, who at the first sign of stress or trouble toss aside Christ's teachings in favor of more material comfort, Christian pacifists, esp those engaged in social justice, deepen their commitment to peaceful resolution when the going gets rough. That's the point they're trying to make, and in certain cases it can cost them their lives, as it might with the hostages in Iraq. Pacifism is perhaps the most maligned form of human resistance to violence and corruption that exists. It's an expression of bravery and fidelity to ideals that not many understand, much less could match, and so it is ridiculed. And the more it is ridiculed, the more powerful the pacifist becomes, and this drives detractors to frenzy.
I'm neither a Christian nor a pacifist. Hit me and I'll return the favor. But then, I'm weak in so many ways, and fall short of grace on a regular basis. Still, I recognize and have seen the transforming energy that pacifists possess, the first real example being in the early-80s when I knew people in the Sanctuary Movement who helped Salvadorans and Guatemalans escape their death squad states. It was both amazing and humbling to witness. I'll never forget the people who put their own freedom on the line to save those whose lives were shattered. Not one of them bragged about it or took any visible pride in their efforts. They did it because they had to and because it was necessary. They simply put their faith into action.
Those pacifists in Iraq may be naive, but they're certainly not cowards. Imagine going into a meatgrinder like that with no weapon other than your belief in the goodness of people and the need to spread God's love and concept of peace. Those swivelchair commandos who jeer these people aren't fit to dust their Bibles. They don't have the guts to patrol Iraq with a rifle much less go over there with an open hand. They have more in common with the Islamic beheaders than they do with Christian pacifists, something that should, but won't, give them pause. And despite that grisly fact, the pacifists still pray for them, and us. Let's send some of that unconditional love back, and hope/pray for their earliest release.