Howard Thurman on Love and Hate

thurmanFrom Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who was a key mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chapter Four: Hate

Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to deal with hatred in human life. It has sought to get rid of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments. It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of the lives of the people possessed by it….

In the first place, hatred often begins in a situation in which there is contact without fellowship…. Much of modern life is so impersonal that there is always opportunity for the seeds of hatred to grow unmolested….

In the second place, contacts without fellowship tend to express themselves in the kind of understanding that is strikingly unsympathetic…. I can sympathize only when I see myself in another’s place. Unsympathetic understandig is the characteristic attitude governing the relation between the weak and the strong….

In the third place, an unsympathetic understanding tends to express itself in the active functionin of ill ill….

In the fourth place, ill will, when dramatized in a human being, becomes hatred walking on earth.

Hatred, in the mind and spirit of the disinherited, is born of great bitterness — a bitterness that is made possible by sustained resentment which is bottled up until it distills an essence of vitality, giving to the individual in whom this is happening a radical and fundamental basis for self-realization….

Hatred becomes for you a source of validation for your personality…. Your hatred gives you a sense of significance…. Hatred may serve as a device for rebuilding, step by perilous step, the foundation for individual significance; so that from within the intensity of their necessity they declare their right to exist, despite the judgment of the environment…. Hatred…establishes a dimension of self-realization hammered out of the raw materials of injustice. A distinct derivative…is the tremendous source of dynamic energy provided…. A strange, new cunning possesses the mind, and every opportunity for taking advantage, for defeating the enemy, is revealed in clear perspective. One of the salient ways by which this expresses itself is the quality of endurance that appears….

When hatred serves as a dimension of self-realization, the illusion of righteousness is easy to create…. It is a form of the old lex talionis — eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth… Thus hatred becomes a device by which an individual seeks to protect himself against moral disintegration…. Hatred will immunize them from a loss of moral self-respect as they do to the enemy what is demanded of them…. Every [injustice] gives further justification for life-negation on the part of the weak toward the strong….

It is clear, then, that for the weak, hatred seems to serve a creative purpose…. As long as the weak see it as being inextricably involved in the complicated technique of survival, it cannot be easily dislodged….

Despite all the positive psychological attributes of hatred we have outlined, hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater…. Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit….  Once hatred is released, it cannot be confined to the offenders alonge…. Hatred cannot be controlled once it is set in motion….

Above and beyond all else it must be borne in mind that hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment….

Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with the Father….

Chapter Five: Love

The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central…. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers between…. To love those of the household he must conquer his own pride….

To love [the Roman, the ruler] was to be regarded as a traitor….

“The enemy” can very easily be divided into three groups. There is first, the personal enemy, one who is in some sense a part of one’s primary-group life…. To love such an enemy requires reconciliation, the will to re-establish a relationship. It involves confession of error and a seeking to be restored to one’s former place….

The second kind of enemy comprises those persons who, but their activities, make it difficult for the group to live without shame and humiliation…. To love the Roman meant first to lift him out of the general classification of enemy. The Roman had to emerge as a person…. If [the Jewish person] wanted to know the Roman for himself, he ran the risk of being accused by his fellows of consorting with the enemy….

Once the status of each is frozen or fixed, contracts are merely truces between enemies…. The religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: “Love your enemy. Take the initiative in seeking ways by which you can have the experience of a common sharing of mutual worth and value. It may be hazardous, but you must do it.”….

Once an attack is made on the enemy and the individual has emerged, the underprivileged man must himself be status free…. Love is possible only between two freed spirit…. There cannot be too great insistence on the point that we are here dealing with a discipline, a method, a technique, as over against some form of wishful thinking or simple desiring…..

Such a technique may be found in the attitude of respect for personality…. A whole group may be regarded as an exception, and thus one is relieved of any necessity to regard them as human beings…. On the same principle scapegoats are provided, upon who helpless heads we pour our failures and our fears….

By implication he says, “…I am stripped bare of all pretense and false pride. The man in me appeals to the man in you.” …Wherever a need is laid bare, those who stand in the presence of it can be confronted with the experience of universality that makes all class and race distinctions impertinent….

…”Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” That is how Jesus demonstrated reverence for personality….

Before love can operate, there is the necessity for forgiveness…. There is in every act of injury an element that is irresponsible and irrational. No evil deed — and no good deed, either — was named by him as an expression of the total mind of the doer…. No evil deed represents the full intent of the doer…. The evildoer does not go unpunished. Life is its own restraint….

There is a spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men that is committed to overcoming the world. It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture, and no condition of men. For the privileged and underprivileged alike, if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline, he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.

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