This is a legitimate question. This blog is about coming back together, about noticing our innate interconnectedness. If we are to look at this topic seriously, we have to look at the biggest hindrance(s) to that unity. And this is a biggie, perhaps the biggie: Why do we hate each other?
Brené Brown says it best: we are hard wired for love and belonging. What follows is that without a sense of belonging, human beings are hard wired to sound the alarm and declare a catastrophe. An emergency. Our innate sense of unity, our built-in alignment toward community, is offended when we are cut off from a community. The result is an unignorable sense of unrest. Humans have adopted a variety of reactions to this sense of unrest.
We create our own in-crowd, one in which we are in control, and therefore, we can’t get kicked out. We select guidelines for belonging that summarize our own attributes. We do this to guarantee our own belonging.
In doing so, of course, we exclude those who aren’t like us. But what does that matter? No one cared when it was me…
Did you notice the bitter, self-indulgent hurt that ended the last paragraph? I believe humanity walks around in a state of constant self-indulgent hurt. It’s not manufactured, and it isn’t false. But it is lazy and it is blind to the fact that it perpetuates, rather than solves, the problem that caused it.
I believe in that little paragraph is the answer to the question that titles this post. Why do we hate each other? The answer is exclusion. Why does exclusion hurt so much? Because it taps into the parts of us that already hate ourselves a little bit. The part that worries about being included. I don’t believe we do hate each other; I believe we hate how others make us feel, much of the time. Because deep down, we aren’t actually all that sure of ourselves to begin with. It would be nice if our human family could assist with, instead of exacerbate, our insecurities. Therefore, when we feel excluded, disconnected, or left out, our natural inclination to not stay there jumps in, except it’s often twinged with revenge, defensiveness, and fear.
I believe the road map out of this hate cycle it is imprinted on our very DNA. But we live in a world that makes it hard to hear that innate wisdom, even when it is taught and embodied in faith traditions.
It is easy to blame others for the state of unrest in which we live. We tend to blame those who aren’t like us, and that blame quickly manifests as hate. In the same TED talk referenced above, my hero, Brené Brown, defines blame as a way to “discharge pain and discomfort.” Literally, we blame and exclude others to overcome our own uncomfortable disconnection, rather than name, call out, and address existing toxic structures of exclusion.
When I was working on my Ph.D., I had a professor who loved the term “strategic distinctions.” When students wanted to find common ground among the world religions, he favored making “strategic distinctions” to highlight why ours was the best. Perhaps part of that was his job. I’m afraid the students liked it a little too much. It gave us free reign to elaborate on our own superiority, and to earn college credit for doing so. Why are we so much more interested in making strategic distinctions than finding common ground?
Religion is not immune to the phenomenon discussed above. If all humans have equal access to God, then I run the risk of being left out of the in-crowd. What if God ends up favoring a crowd to which I do not belong? But, if I can claim God for my own religion, if I can determine that my religion “owns” God, then I can’t be damned. The problems that follow are the same obvious problems that follow from above.
My Church, the Catholic Church, is aware of the need to admit we cannot contain God. We cannot exhaust God. We can accept God, and we can be open to the new ways God wants to show up. But we cannot believe we have God figured out. I am pleased to say my Church knows this and teaches this. It’s here in Nostra Aetate, underscoring that Catholicism teaches it has been given the fullness of revelation in Christ, but that God can and does use the riches of other faith traditions to speak.
I know many Catholics that like to deny this aspect of their own Church’s teaching. It keeps me safe to know my Church has all the answers and that you’re going to hell if you don’t accept them.
Why do so many believers of all faiths, then, emphasize exclusion, even as their own faith traditions emphasize inclusion? Why has Catholicism so frequently lived out its mission in the form of apologetics, condemnations, and correct recitations of formulas, rather than as a living, walking invitation to a living, walking, continually-speaking God?
Another way of phrasing this question is: why do so many religions exhibit hate when their literature and holy books preach love? If the blame-logic discussed above follows in religion, the answer, it seems, is that religions cut others out of Heaven so others can’t cut them out first. If I own God, if I’ve claimed God, then you’re going to hell, not me. It’s not hate; it’s actually fear. But to discharge that fear, following Dr. Brown’s definition of blame, we blame others for it. Other faiths, perhaps. And that blame morphs into hate.
I feel strongly that my faith has been blessed with so many divine riches. But I wonder, then, why a people so blessed with divine self-gift, endless forgiveness, and Holy Spirit, end up producing so many bitter, closed-in, hateful individuals. I sometimes feel as though I was born into a house, a beautiful mansion adorned with gold and marble and a fountain, with a loving set of parents and a ton of rowdy siblings, a live-in chef who makes really good food, a games director who leads myself and my rowdy siblings in games and story times and treasure hunts, a fine education, access to all the sports and music lessons and art and science and scouting that I could ask for – in short, a truly idyllic existence. And in this same fantasy, I feel that, although our parents send us out into the neighborhood to find and greet our neighbors and to invite them over to dinner and to share with them the abundant resources we have at our house, we instead go out and push the other kids around. We mock them for living in smaller houses. We criticize their clothes and their toys. We brag about our superior chef and we wave our food in their faces, taunting their hungry lips. We invite them over, but when they say, “I’m not sure, I need to ask my mom” or “I might have band practice tonight” or “I’m allergic to what you’re serving,” we hurl malice and mockery and condemnation at them. Our house is the only house, we say. And you’ll live a miserable life and die a miserable death if you go home to yours.
How truly ironic we are.
As sad a state as this is, these prodigal children will eventually have to come home. And their loving parents will know what they’ve been up to. And, being loving parents, they won’t send the children away to hell. But they will probably send them back to the neighbors’ homes with a tray of brownies and an apology note. That’s what a loving parent would do to a wayward child. We are all wayward children sometimes. But we are wayward simply because we are hurting. Simply because we are scared. And the good parents that we have will see that. And comfort us, even as they send us out with the brownies. We are wayward but not hopeless. And forgiveness is plentiful if we would try.