The Duty of Hatred

To live above the battle, in a private shrine of serenity and peace; to pray without discrimination that finely discriminating prayer of Christ for his enemies; to censure the raging resentment of the victims of outrages that we have not suffered, and of the witnesses of atrocities that have not offended our eyes; to set haloes on ‘ conscientious objectors’ to the struggle that is saving our lives and the freedom of our land; to prate of pardoning the distant sinner against others, without confessing to ourselves how we should feel if his sins were committed against us: all this is feebleness and folly, or else moral treason. It is immorality using the Sermon on the Mount for smoke-screen; it is spiritual cowardice wearing the airs of Christian heroism; it is surpliced impiety and sanctimonious blasphemy. ‘The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines.’ Now, if ever, is the time for every heart to vibrate to that iron string.

Forgiveness is for unwitting or repented sins; not for sins conscious, deliberate, unrepented. It is the recognition that the sinner knew not what he did, with the clearly implied condition that, had he known, he would not have done it. Or it is the recognition that a professed contrition is sincere, and that an incipient amendment of life is to be lasting. Forgiveness is the highest and holiest attribute of man. It is an office that each must exercise, for all men need it at their fellows’ hands. Among the radiations of soul into soul wherein our truest life consists, the most glorious rays are those that shed pardon, and the peace of pardon, and the new faith in himself that our faith in the penitent sinner engenders. Whose sins we remit, they are pro tanto remitted; whose sins we retain, they are, quâ us, and quâ the sinner’s kindly or resentful regard for us, retained. Like so many of the Christian sayings, the force of this one is due to its human truth, its universal applicability.

But because the doctrine of the remission of sins by human pardon is so important, it is not less important that we understand it aright, that we may know when and where it is our duty to practise it, and when and why it is wrong to forgive — or pretend to forgive. And in my judgment there really is a duty of hatred, an imperative of conscience prescribing resentment, as unconditional as the very law of love itself; nay, the law of resentment is the necessary complement of the law of love and pardon. Is not this one of the ‘high things’ that the ‘high song’ taught to Thalassius? —

He that loves life overmuch shall die
The dog’s death, utterly;
But he that much less loves it than he hates
All wrongdoing that is done
Anywhere, always, underneath the sun,
Shall live a mightier life than Time’s or Fate’s.

That wrongdoing is to be hated is self-evident, and denied by none. Nobody professes to love treachery, or murder, or the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Even the German U-boat commander, who sank a ship of ours in the Atlantic the other day, had the grace to admit that he hated the dastardly deed he had to do. Any condonation of the illegal and inhuman savageries committed by our enemies in this war would be intolerable. But many counselors are reminding us of the old Church maxim, that, while we hate the sin, we should love the sinner; and because I agree with this saying in its true meaning, I am concerned to see that it is interpreted in a rational sense, and not used sentimentally as a justification for a weak-kneed and immoral attitude. What, then, does it rightly mean?

It means loving the sinner, not as he is, but as he has it in him to become. It means that one should regard the inexhaustible potentialities of repentance and spiritual transformation in him, and order one’s bearing and action so as to give to these deeply interred potentialities the maximum chance of release and actualization. It does not and cannot mean loving the sinner in so far as he is still identified in will with his sin, and with the end to which his sin is the means. The sin is the outward expression of an inward and spiritual perversion; it is not severable in moral estimate from the mental or spiritual aberration that prompts it. And the hatred rightly directed against the sin cannot be, and ought not to be, deflected from the personality of the sinner, in so far as this embodies itself in the censured deed.

It is strange that Christian ethics, the most inward and spiritual portion of our ancient ethical tradition, should have been used to justify a sunderance between will and deed which is in fact impossible, and which could not be justified, even if it were possible. We live only in our deeds and in the energies which release themselves therein; and it is precisely the teaching of Christ which lodges the sin in the heart’s-root of the sinner, and so justifies the belief that hatred due to an evil act is due also to the evil disposition in which the act is conceived and born. ‘That which comes from within a man defiles him’; and, in so far as he is the source of this defilement, identifies himself with it, persists in it and justifies it, I am to hate him as I hate it.

There is a noteworthy discrimination concerning the dying prayer of Christ in one of the wisest studies of the Christian ethic ever made: the Ecce Homo of Seeley. Noting the condition attached to Christ’s plea for the forgiveness of his enemies, Seeley has the courage to conclude that Christ did not forgive the enemies who knew what they did. The ignorant Roman soldiers, in whose eyes He was a common malefactor, and who could make no distinction between Him and the criminals at his side, were, for that reason alone, to be forgiven. But the traitors who had consciously handed over their innocent fellow countryman to the agents of a foreign tyranny, who acted in deliberate malice and rejoiced in their success, are not forgiven by Christ, nor does He even pray for God’s forgiveness to them. The omission, it can scarcely be doubted, was deliberate and intentional; and it was unquestionably right, for to forgive the impenitent is to condone their sin, and therefore to minimize it, if not actually to identify one’s self with it.

I cannot hate the act of torpedoing a hospital ship without hating the men who order it to be done. I may not, it is true, forget the possibility that those men may some day come to hate their deed as I hate it now; but it is also true that, only after this miracle has been worked, will it be right for anybody to forgive them. If I am not to share their guilt, I must both feel and express the detestation inspired in me by their deed, and by themselves so long as they remain identified in will with their deed.

The identification of the criminal with the unrepented crime, which I am here insisting upon, is in truth an identification that everybody recognizes in the case of good deeds and of artistic achievements. Nobody proposes to love the good act without loving the actor, in so far as he is expressed in, and identified with it. In these cases, we always see the man in the deed, the poet in the poem, the artist in the picture.

Of course, we rightly reserve consideration of the latent possibilities of evil in the doer of a good deed, just as we are bound to reserve consideration of the good potencies in the wrongdoer. But it is as wrong to pretend to love the impenitent and unpurged criminal while hating his sin, as it would be to hate the doer of a deed of love while loving the deed itself.

The bearing of this brief analysis on the great moral problem of the war scarcely needs explication. Hatred, within the limits of the purpose of ending this war and all war, — hatred for the very sake of the better nature buried under the demonism of the enemy, — is not merely tolerable, but is our bounden duty. For the circumstances are such that our only chance of contributing to the release of the true and better self of our enemies is to make manifest to them the immitigable anger provoked in us by their deeds and by themselves as authors of those deeds. Such hatred is quite distinct from the blind lust of revenge, for the reason that its end is not the mere infliction upon the enemy of such savageries as he has perpetrated upon others, nor is it his annihilation. The end is such a physical victory over him as will render him impotent to pursue the course that has fired the world with a just hatred; and, to this end, the infliction upon him of so much injury as that end itself necessitates.

When the wild beast has been caged so that he can no longer burn, poison, rape, and destroy, his own reflections upon the universal detestation he has provoked, his own perception of the impossibility of his being readmitted to the fellowship of nations while he remains identified with the seven devils that possess him, will be the necessary prelude to the change of heart that would make forgiveness and restoration possible. In this process of the spiritual redemption of Germany, hatred of the wrong and the wrongdoers is a necessary factor.

The impossible pretence of loving the spirit which is expressed and embodied in the deeds we hate is a sickly and sickening sentimentality; it is, to return to Emerson’s phrase, ‘the gospel of love puling and whining,’ and therefore it needs to be counteracted by the doctrine of a just hatred.