Getting to the Bottom of Hate: Charleston As Case in Point

A lot of people have said that we saw hate in what Dylann Roof did in Charleston, S.C., last week. I agree. But I also think that we throw around the word “hate” these days without giving much thought to what makes hate, hate.

I approach the subject of “hate” with great trepidation, as there are those who would like nothing more than to put words in my mouth. However, it seems to me that today we sometimes throw around the word hate much like we throw around the words hero, superstar, and discriminate. Not everyone who is called a hero or superstar really is one, and we all discriminate all the time. All choices we make—whether to spend time reading this or moving on to something else—entail a form of “discrimination.”

So what is hate? It’s a word the Southern Poverty Law Center likes to use a lot, putting different people and organizations on its “hate list.” But it’s also a word that is used a lot in the Bible, and in some interesting ways.

Jesus, who many cynics of Christianity say they admire, even used the word in reference to Himself. In fact, He said that being hated might not be as bad as everybody might tend to think. Specifically, He said the world hated Him, and He told His disciples they would be hated, too (John 15:18). Jesus even had the audacity to say that they were blessed in God’s sight if they were hated for His sake.

Then there is this interesting verse: “Let those who love the LORD hate evil” (Psalm 97:10). A command to hate in the Bible? That just doesn’t compute to the modern mind (which I discussed last week). But this verse contains a clue to the meaning of hate that perhaps we’ve overlooked. It is the matter of evil.

Jesus said that the world hated Him because He “testified” of it, “that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7). The world, which includes me, doesn’t tend to like the thought that there is an objective, absolute standard by which what we do and think are to be judged. And the world, which includes me, doesn’t particularly like those who point out that standard to us. In fact, today we call them “hateful” and “haters.”

But it is the existence of that standard that helps us understand what really is hateful and make sense of just how amazing the response of the victims’ families was.

How do we decide what is hateful if there is no real, objective standard by which to judge the attitude or action of another? (Please don’t flippantly say something about not judging other people, because in doing so, you are making a judgmental statement and violating your own standard.) By analogy, those who deny that there are any standards by which to judge a work of art say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Likewise, absent any real, objective ethical standard for behavior, could not Dylann Roof say to his accusers, “Hate is in the eye of the beholder?”

Such a statement, of course, is not true, but it’s not true because there is that which is objectively good and evil. And what Mr. Roof did was evil (and hateful) because he violated the clear command of God, “Do not murder.”

It’s only when we acknowledge that there is a real, objective standard for right and wrong and that someone has violated it in relationship to us that we can see what real love can do—forgive—and its power. Its power turned away the kind of rioting and violence that seems to follow in the wake of those who go around calling people hateful.

When we cheapen the word hate by calling everybody who simply disagrees with us hateful, then we also cheapen the word love and that manifestation of it we call forgiveness.

In Charleston, we got a glimpse of something beautiful—real love and its power—because we got a glimpse of something God says is really evil.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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