Thistlethwaite: Hate is bad for you
The great pastoral and psychological irony of the spitting hate we see spewed in our national discourse is that it is especially harmful for the hater.
The awful vitriol being thrown about these days is especially toxic for those who employ it, and, as we can see, increasingly bad for the body politic.
For example, there is a view that Rush Limbaugh “deserved” to get lung cancer for what some perceive as his promotion of hate. Yes, truth be told, I think Limbaugh promotes hate, but therefore does he deserve the hideous suffering of lung cancer? I don’t think so, but some apparently do.
A tweet by freelance writer Jon Tayler is typical of the “he got what was coming to him” school of thought: “Rush Limbaugh is, without a doubt, one of the most hateful, awful people of the last half century, and one who had one of the most negative impacts possible on this country. It’s only fitting that this cancer upon the world should be stricken by it.”
No. You return hate for hate, and the poison of that view clings to you, body, mind and spirit.
Here’s another example. A Muslim father doesn’t “deserve” to have his brave little daughter, Nusayba, who has survived liver cancer and gotten a successful transplant, not be able to have children. But that’s what one hater tweeted at Wajahat Ali, a CNN contributor who writes opinion pieces for The New York Times. Why? Because Mr. Ali had the nerve to critique the president on TV.
Ali shared a horrible message he had received about his 3-year-old daughter who had stage 4 liver cancer and who has just gotten a successful liver transplant. This critic objected to a comment Mr. Ali made on a news show and tweeted a hateful comment about his daughter as a punishment for him. “Either way, it’s a good thing Nusayba probably will never be able to have kids. The last thing we need are more of yous (sic) on this earth.”
Wajahat Ali did not return hate for hate. He let the comment speak for itself and many posted their support for him and his family.
Let me also say, for the sake of medical accuracy, that young girls who have gotten life-saving liver transplants have been able to successfully have children later in life. See the National Institutes of Health website.
The toxicity of hating someone’s comment on TV so much you would wish suffering on their already suffering baby girl is staggering. And it will harm the hater. But let us be clear, being on the receiving end of vicious hate is harmful and one does have to work hard to reject its destructiveness. A community of support can really help.
After 40 years as a pastor, I have watched people shrivel inside because they cannot let go of hate and the anger that goes with it. I can tell you, Jon Tayler and the commenter on the Twitter feed of Wajahat Ali, that kind of angry hateful attitude is really bad for you.
You. That’s right. You. When you hate someone so much that you think they deserve the horrors of what dying from lung cancer entails, it is bad for you morally, and I believe it is bad for you physically. Hating a person so much you wish ill to their already ill child is incredibly bad, and it is bad for the hater.
Let’s take the physical first. Hate is physically so corrosive. The kind of anger that percolates up into such hatred, over time, greatly increases the risk of stroke or heart attack and it lowers your immune resistance, making you more vulnerable to developing severe illness, and, in a related irony, that includes cancer, according to medical research.
Now, you, the astute reader may ask, is that what happened to Limbaugh? Of course, we cannot know that for certain. Cancer is so multi-causal. But I am quite sure a steady diet of hate isn’t good for you.
Moral toxicity goes hand in hand with physical toxicity. Hating others all the time and venting your anger at them absolutely strangles your capacity for empathy. It is the exact reverse of the teaching in Leviticus (19:18) that Jesus quoted, often called the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12)
The golden rule is found in eight of the world’s religions, it is that central to what humans have thought for millennia was ethical behavior.
The golden rule for the hater degenerates into an iron rule of inflexible, one-sided condemnation of others. Compassion is replaced with “they deserved it!”
Again, in my pastoral experience, constant hate of others bleeds into all your relationships, not just those you are targeting in any one moment. Your relationships suffer in family, in community, and at work. And that, in turn, makes you sick.
A whole “politics of hate” is making us a sick society.
Johns Hopkins, the famous medical center, has done research on what “chronic anger” does to you. The researchers recommend “you release the anger, resentment and hostility.”
As probably the most famous princess of our time has sung, I think, in my personal experience as a grandmother perhaps a million times, “Let it go, let it go…”
You have to actively work on letting go of anger and not letting it harm you, and you have to work on not projecting it out on to others and sending harm to them.
This process, often called “forgiveness,” is so misunderstood. I have taught a seminary class on forgiveness, and believe me, it is not what most people think that term means. It does not mean “forget about it.” It does not mean you become a doormat and cannot object to anything. Of course, you can. Anger can be an important signal that something is not right and it must be changed. If something in your relationships needs changing, work on that. But if you continuously hold on to anger, it gets solidified into resentment that congeals into hatred and becomes a kind of lump of coal in your soul that pollutes and deforms it.
We say in the peace movement that “If you mirror your enemy, you become your enemy.” You actually become the hate you are trying to confront if you do it with hate.
This year, 2020, will be even more intolerable than it already seems unless we let go of hate in our disagreements. Advocate your views, confront those positions you think are harmful and even destructive, challenge lies with facts. And, above all, work for alternates.
But as for hate, let it go.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.