The Virtue of Hate

Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 02:04 am
I was looking through my old emails tonight and found something from my old anthro prof (the Great Satan) about Judaism vs. Christianity. I grew up Jewish, and never really thought about it from an outside perspective before, so it was interesting. I've actually heard the story of the dying SS officer, in a service, actually, but I never really gave it much though until now. What do you all think? Discuss.

From: The Chronicle [[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, February 13, 2003 4:00 AM

A glance at the February issue of "First Things":
A Jewish perspective on hate and forgiveness

Christianity preaches that we must pray for the salvation of even the frightfully wicked, but Judaism teaches that sometimes we should not forgive, and indeed, we should hate the most hopelessly evil, writes Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik, a Beren fellow at Yeshiva University who currently studies philosophy of religion at Yale Divinity School.

Rabbi Soloveichik looks at Simon Wiesenthal's classic Holocaust text, "The Sunflower," in which Mr. Wiesenthal describes how, as a young concentration-camp prisoner, he is summoned by a dying SS officer who confesses his participation in the murder and torture of hundreds of Jews and beseeches Mr. Wiesenthal's forgiveness. Mr. Wiesenthal, unable to comply, leaves the room, but remains tortured by his experience and organizes a religious symposium to examine his decision. The resulting exchange, Rabbi Soloveichik observes, reveals a "remarkable contrast" between the replies of Christian and Jewish symposiasts. While Christians look to the crucifixion and the teaching of Jesus, who said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," Jews invoke the example of Hebrew prophets who sought the defeat and disgrace of their enemies, proclaiming, "Father, do not forgive them, for they know well what they do."

Rabbi Soloveichik asks: "Is an utterly evil man ... deserving of a theist's love?" and, reflecting on his conversations with Christian clergymen, concludes that there is "no minimizing the difference between Judaism and Christianity on whether hate can be virtuous." He examines the "theological underpinnings" for each faith's approach to hate and notes that "the crucifixion is a story of a loving God seeking humanity's salvation," but that "not a single Jewish source asserts that God deeply desires to save all humanity."

Speaking to Israel's critics, Rabbi Soloveichik recognizes that "the danger inherent in hatred is that it must be very limited, directed only at the most evil and unrepentant." Still, he argues that when repeated attempts at forgiveness prove futile, hatred can serve as protection in a way that is "essential for Jewish well-being."

This article is available online at http://www.firstthings.com/
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Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 07:45 am
Rufio - ar eyou wanting discussion of possible differences in Jewish/Christian theology/practice? If so, I am not qualified to comment.

or - are you wanting discussion on forgiveness/non-forgiveness?
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Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 12:37 pm
Either or both, dlowan.
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lab rat
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 01:38 pm
I attended a Christian school, and we were taught that a distinguishing feature of Christianity is that all (?) other theistic religions involve man's efforts to reach out to God, while Christianity is based on God's effort to reach man.
Thus, for the Christian, to label a person "unforgivable" is to essentially deny God's power to redeem/find worth in that person. In other faiths, you would only be doubting that person's ability to "earn" their way to God.
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Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 02:21 pm
Ahh. See, it seemed to me (but I'm probably wrong) that Judaism focused on people's relationships with each other, but Christianity focused more on people's relationships with God. It's easier to forgive a despute with an all-loving supernatural being than a despute with a real live person who has no desire to forgive you.
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Frank Apisa
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 02:29 pm
Here are two often-heard Christian admonitions:

Forgive those who have done wrong to you.
Love the sinner; hate the sin.

It has been my experience that Christians give little more than lip service to either.
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lab rat
Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 03:52 pm
In the context of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7), Christians are expected to forgive others in light of God's forgiveness of them. Jesus told a parable of a man who was forgiven a huge debt but who then refused to forgive a man who owed him a few cents. The implication is that if we as Christians fully realize the extent of our own need for forgiveness, gratefulness for our salvation should manifest itself in a willingness to forgive others for offenses against us. The God we sin against is perfect; if He can forgive us for our transgressions, why can't we (as imperfect beings ourselves) forgive other people for also being imperfect?
Addressing Frank's comments/generalization, I agree that all too often Christians fail to practice what they preach. That doesn't mean the message is invalid--only that its practitioners are imperfect.
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Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 03:53 pm
Try this link to the Soloveichik piece. It should get you there directly.

Interesting article.
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Reply Wed 5 Nov, 2003 04:49 pm
Actually, lab rat, in Judaism I don't think God can forgive transgressions between people. Yom Kippur is the "day of atonement" - you fast and pray and so forth, and ideally, all your sins are gotten rid of. But there's this one little string attached - if you sinned against God, than it's all cool, but if you sinned against a person, you're not good until you've gone and personally appologized and asked THEM for forgiveness. So if you kill someone, you're SOL. Here, God doesn't just make everything better. And forgiving other people for sinning against you is nice, but not neccessary. The specific way I heard the SS officer story was that what he confessed to doing was burning down a synagogue into which they'd locked Jewish women and children. The reason the guy couldn't forgive him was not because it was such a horrible deed, but because he couldn't as he personally hadn't been transgressed against. The SS officer would have to ask forgiveness from the people he killed.
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Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2003 06:41 am
Here are a few more or less random thoughts on forgiveness.

I work with kids and adolescents, and pretty much specialize in trauma.

Sometimes, we run into some interesting issues with some christian schools. Here are some examples:

A Lutheran school. A father is convicted, and imprisoned for sexually and physically abusing his two young children. While he is on bail, and after he is released, the pastor and some teachers pressure the mother and the children to forgive. For them, this means counselling and a return to the marriage, and that the children should see their father. Their activities around this include allowing the father (against parole conditions) into the school grounds to see the children. The kids refused - and ran home. When I spoke to the school, and pastor, the thinking was that christians should forgive and reconcile - not to do so was sinful.

The family left the school and church - whose thinking, I might add, has changed on this matter.

A christian high school.

A teenage girl is pack raped on the school oval - in the sight of a number of kids.

The school authorities - when she runs sobbing to the office - attempt to restrain her from pressing charges. She and her family do so nonetheless - the boys are charged, and later, with the evidence of a number of eye-witnesses, convicted.

Meanwhile, while the court process continues, the school counsel the family that she should leave the school - since it will be difficult for her to see the boys daily.

When challenged on this, the school says that they are a christian organization, and the boys must be forgiven, and that they are (quite rightly) innocent until proven guilty, so they cannot exclude them. Meanwhile, children are excluded daily for not wearing school uniform.

After some discussion, the school decide that their duty is to the girl - and the boys are excluded. The therapist involved, in her discussions with the school, talks about the importance of recognition and repair in the process of forgiveness.

These are, obviously, extreme and muddle-headed examples. Nonetheless, I have many others I could give. I find myself wondering if the same muddle-headed ideas about forgiveness fueled decisions to simply "move on" abusive clergy in - hopefully - the past.

That being said - I personally believe that forgiveness is, overall, an important thing.

I have a number of reasons for thinking this.

One is simply hard-headed social realism. Carrying grudges - as a tribe/society/culture/religion/political grouping/country/family/individual - can lead to ongoing and very unproductive conflict.

Secondly, after a certain healing period, focussing continuing hatred on people/bodies that have hurt you seems to me to be psychologically damaging. I have a sort of belief - based on experience and "intuition" that, in very real ways, we turn into whatever we hate - especially if our hate is obsessive.

Thirdly - and this may well be because of my basically christian upbringing - I feel that, in some odd way, forgiveness, if authentically felt, and not thrust on us, somehow maximises the store of "good" available in the world. I know! I know! But there it is - it is how I feel.
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lab rat
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2003 07:55 am
The way I was trained (in the Christian church), all sin is against God--in my religion, there is no distinction between sins "against people" and sin against God. For example, if I rob someone, I am breaking God's command, "Thou shalt not steal", so my forgiveness for that sin must ultimately come from Him. Another way that some Christians look at it: since people are created in God's image, sinning against a person is sinning against the image of God.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek forgiveness from those we've wronged--our New Testament is replete with commands to "inasmuch as it is possible, live at peace with all men", etc. But in the grand scheme of things, God is the only one to whom we must ultimately give an account.

dlowan-- good post. Addressing the first half of your post, being called as a Christian to forgive does not mean letting evil people walk all over me. It is possible to forgive past sin without eliminating the consequences for that sin--e.g. the rapists in your example should be forgiven but still expelled and sent to jail. The father can be forgiven without being given access to his victims again.
Regarding the scandal with abusive clergy: there is a command in the New Testament to "expel the immoral brother". In context, the "immoral brother" referred to is someone who claims to be a Christian while living a grossly immoral life. If, after being confronted by other Christians regarding his immoral lifestyle and public representation of Christianity, this "brother" refuses to repent, the church is instructed to dissociate from him (NOT shift him to another parish Mad), at least until he changes his ways, if that time ever comes. He can certainly be forgiven and (especially) prayed for, but he should not be permitted to continue abusing the image of Christ and Christianity.
Lots of words--again it seems many Christians are lacking in practice. Sad
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Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2003 10:43 am
It seems to me that any religion is de facto equally culpable in promoting "hate", because they all act as an "authority" for a particular divisive world view, and tend to "dehumanize" the outgroup. After the "event" both "forgiveness" and "revenge" could in theory be equally expedient in mind of the original victim, but since that mind has been shaped by a particular religious belief then the choice between these actions will be differentially weighted.
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Frank Apisa
Reply Thu 6 Nov, 2003 11:00 am
One of the other problems I see here is a personal consideration about "hate."

I so often see "hate" as fear -- that it is difficult for me to consider it otherwise.

My opinion is that the opposite of "love" often is "fear" -- not "hate."

My guess about the kids in dlowan's two stories is that what they feel for their tormenters is not hate -- so much as it is fear.

Hate may be easier to forgive than fear -- and we may be running into a definitional problem here.

I ackknowledge that this perspective is still less than half baked, but I'd certainly like to hear any considerations of it that anyone might want to share.
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