While on a writing break, I’m taking the time to share some of my favorites from the More to Come archives. Isolated minds. Dead hearts. — which is used in a portion of the following piece — was originally posted on November 23, 2020.
Author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman begins the powerful chapter on hate in his seminal work Jesus and the Disinherited with a vivid image of hate relentlessly pursuing the hated, crushing down on those who have been cast off and repudiated.
Hate is another of the hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the disinherited…
Famously known as “the text that Martin Luther King Jr. sought inspiration from in the days leading up to the Montgomery bus boycott,” Thurman’s work both shaped the civil rights movement and changed our nation’s history. It is a short, but profound read which will stay with me for a long time.
As Vincent Harding writes in the Foreword, Jesus and the Disinherited “was the centerpiece of the Black prophet-mystic’s lifelong attempt to bring the harrowing beauty of the African American experience into deep engagement with what he called ‘the religion of Jesus.'” In chapters on fear, deception, hate, and love, Thurman “demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the moving chapter on hate, where he focuses on the conspiracy of silence around the function and meaning of hatred, and how it has an especially severe impact on the disenfranchised.
Hatred often begins in situations where there is “contact without fellowship,” writes Thurman. There are no overtures of warmth and genuineness. It is easy, he asserts, “to have fellowship on your own terms,” something that any one of us who grew up in the segregated, Jim Crow South can easily see. It is unsympathetic understanding breeding ill will. Hatred becomes a source of validation for us and for our personalities.
While hatred has the ability to bring us much satisfaction, Thurman writes that Jesus knew that ultimately hatred destroys “the core of the life of the hater.” It guarantees an isolation from one’s fellow humans.
Hatred cannot be controlled once it is put in motion.
A mentor wrote about evil and hatred following the attacks of 9/11. “This past week has shown two of the ways that evil can affect human beings,” he said. “It isolates the mind and kills the heart.” Thurman saw that in the Jim Crow South. We’ve seen it not only in 9/11, but in events as recent as the horrific murder of George Floyd. We have long since reached the point in our civic lives where we can be easily overwhelmed by evil and hatred. It is all around us.
Thurman pivots from hate to love by writing that “Jesus rejected hatred.”
It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial.
We need to nurture empathy so that we are better equipped to appreciate the challenges others face. It is difficult to remain stubborn when you bring in your heart and are empathetic to the needs of others. According to recent neuroscience, empathy is hardwired into all mammals. Our default — our authentic self — is to have the courage and strength to help others. But the forces that want to isolate our minds and kill our hearts is very strong. Those forces are working on us to suppress our authentic selves in the hope that we will only focus on our needs and our grievances. That force is pushing us to hate others.
Thurman writes that we have to move toward love in action rooted in concrete experience. “No amount of good feeling for people in general, no amount of simple desiring, is an adequate substitute.” Once we have defined our neighbor, “then the moral obligation is clear.” In the story of the Good Samaraitan, Jesus uses
… sure artistry and great power to depict what happens when a man responds directly to human need across the barriers of class, race, and condition. Every man is potentially every other man’s neighbor. Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitative. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers between.
Love your neighbor as yourself. It was no easier in Palestine 2000 years ago than it is today in a polarized America with the world reeling from an immoral war. Yet we must try.
For every man there is a necessity to establish as securely as possible the lines along which he proposes to live his life.
As Martin Luther King demonstrated, Jesus and the Disinherited can be a life-changing book.
More to come…
NOTE: Here are other posts on More to Come examining hatred and love.
- Armistice Day and the banality of evil (November 12, 2021)
- Power that builds rather than divides (June 7, 2021)
- Judgement and forgiveness (June 24, 2019)