The Locus of Hatred, Part 1ANTHONY ESOLEN
It is a commonplace among our ruling class that religion is irrational and inherently divisive, fostering hatred of one group for another.
Let us leave Islam out of consideration, and the largely defensive wars waged by Europeans against Islamic aggression. Where are the religious wars in human history? Name them. Not Greece against Persia, not Athens against Sparta, not Rome against Carthage, not the Germanic invaders against Rome. Where are all the religious wars? In the Middle Ages, the Church, in lay movements such as the Truce of God and the Peace of God, served to restrain the violence of the ruling class. Yes, medieval city warred against city, but the warfare was not religious, nor was it inspired by religion when in the late Renaissance, Catholic France under Richelieu cast her lot with the Protestant Scandinavians against their common foe, the Hapsburg empire. That Thirty Years' War is the best candidate for a truly religious European war, and it is no doubt the one remembered most keenly by the philosophes of the eighteenth century. But England continued to war against France, not over religion but over control of various colonies. Name, one after another, every war waged by England, France, Spain, Germany, or Italy from the Thirty Years' War until the present, and you will find much bloodshed, but not because of religious hatred.
I look at the last hundred years, and see hatred wherever a European people has turned away from its Christian heritage, to exalt some idol in the place of God. Look at Albania, that miserable nation. Look at the gulags in the Soviet Union, or the forcible elimination of Confucian piety under Mao's cultural revolution. How many millions of people died of starvation in the Ukraine under Stalin, while the ruling class in America, represented by the liar Walter Duranty, looked demurely away? How many people of both parties in America, people of the ruling class again, whose religious faith was rather in "progress" than in Jesus Christ, looked benignly upon the rise of the nationalist Hitler, and praised his clear grasp upon the problems of population and eugenics? How many people of that same ruling class still give Mao a free pass, or forgive the dictator Castro for his excesses now and then? Spanish Catholics are loathed for having favored the nationalist Franco rather than the communists in the Spanish civil war – and what were they supposed to do, when the communists were murdering priests and nuns, as they had done shortly before, in Mexico?
Where is the hatred? Yes, you can find sinners everywhere, including such great clerical haters as Father Coughlin and Reverend Paisley. But look, in America, at what the hater John Dewey did to public education – he who helped introduce Marxism into China. No qualms of conscience over that one? Students had been praying in our public schools for many generations, and if there was in many places a distinct Protestant cast to their prayer, yet somehow or other people dealt with it in a civil manner; I know of not one violent confrontation over it, in all of American history. Yet what was it but hatred that motivated Angela Davis, and Madeleine Murry O'Hair? She who, when her son converted to Christianity, refused to speak to him ever again, saying that she was not bound to forgive, because she was not Christian.
Let's suppose that you deny the transcendent worth of every human being. Suppose also that you deny that this life is a pilgrimage to God. Then you are bound to see your political opponents here as threatening "progress" itself, and if you deny, to boot, that moral good and evil are discernible by right reason – if you deny the natural law – then you have no recourse but to lash out against your opponents. And the quickest and easiest thing to do is to embroil yourself in hate-filled accusations of hatred. I don't derive any pleasure from this observation; I am trying to understand how a Christopher Hitchens can call Mother Teresa "Hell's Angel," or cry out, when the mild-mannered George Rutler calls him out for public obscenity, that the Monsignor should go sodomize some little boy. Or how, when James Dobson fell ill of a stroke a few years ago, the proponents of the homosexual agenda should have reacted with glee. I know that there are haters on the political right, too. But the belief that each person is loved infinitely by God tends to, well, cause the believer to behave accordingly, at least some of the time. Plenty of the English hate Pope Benedict, but Pope Benedict seems not to hate anybody at all. Plenty of people hated Pope John Paul II, but he was sternest with the communist puppets like Jaruszelski, who were oppressing his countrymen, and with schismatics on the Catholic right. He too was not a man of hatred.
Why is not politics, especially politics as religion, seen as the locus of hatred? If irreligion is unitive, why is the academy a snake pit of envy and backstabbing and internecine strife? I cannot hate my political opponent – I cannot hate Bill Clinton – because politics just is not that important to me; it would be like hating someone for being wrong about fiscal policy. Well, someone may be wrong about fiscal policy, but I'm not going to wish the gallows on him for it. And conversely, where is that love unto death to be found – the love that will move someone to toss everything he loves away, even his life? Not in the academy, not among the ruling class, not in the halls of Washington. See the man upon the cross. He is the answer to our questions; not a philosophy, not an ideology, but a Person. And his arms are thrown wide, for all to come to him.
Anthony Esolen. "The practice of excellence." Mere Comments (June/July, 2010).
Mere Comments is the blog for Touchstone Magazine: A Journal of Mere Christianity.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College, where his classes are featured in the college's Western Civilization Core Curriculum. He is the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Anthony Esolen has published many scholarly articles and essays, including several on Renaissance literature. A graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina, Esolen is proficient in Latin, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, French, German and Greek. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife Debra and their two children. Anthony Esolen is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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