Love Your Enemy, Even When It’s Your Duty to Kill Him
Though last time I wrote about the abuse by the Left of the epithet “hate group,” don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly legitimate to worry about real hate groups. Actual hatred is the second most corrosive force in society, rjght after envy, with heedless lust bringing up third.
Despising the Sinner, Instead of the Sin
But what is hate? It can mean a number of things. Here are three useful secular senses of the word:
- To loathe someone for things which aren’t his fault, which he can’t control and which do no harm to innocent third parties. Hence enmity aimed at members of ethnic groups fits the bill, or at people just because of their sexual temptations, drug addictions, or the fact that they are homeless — or that they were born into wealth.
- To target the sinner as much as the sin. Hence deep personal animus aimed even at Communists, sharia advocates, aggressive atheists or sexual liberationists can cross the line into hate. Likewise, of course, hostility to pro-family activists, pastors, or Trump voters.
- To wish such people not just defeat on the issues where you differ, but suffering or destruction. It’s easy to fall into this with a family as politically toxic and tragedy-prone as the Kennedys.
The Shadow Cast by Love
But we shouldn’t lose sight of the deepest meaning of hatred. Because it’s the black shadow cast by the deepest kind of love. As I wrote in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre back in 2012:
We are not a religion for pacifists, or those who would stand by dabbing our tears and caressing our consciences while the weak are victimized. Sometimes we have to wade in, sword or gun in hand, and use deadly force to quash the actions of evil men — and we must do so without hating them. That doesn’t mean without anger, or even without (where needed) the will to kill. The plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 was carried out by a Catholic war hero, Claus von Stauffenberg, and met with the approval of Pius XII — who transmitted messages on behalf of the conspirators.
Nor is it hate to want to see a criminal be punished, or to take a grim satisfaction in the execution of his sentence. Only those who do not believe in life after death who could think this way; to them, earthly life is the only and ultimate good, so wanting to spoil that for or take that from someone (for any reason) amounts to hate. …
We believe that earthly life is good, and eternal life with God is infinitely better. So the only real act of hate we can commit is to hope that someone is damned.
If you are justly enraged at someone, and feel he must be confronted, defeated, even imprisoned lest he commit more injustices that does not mean you hate him. If that question worries you, ask yourself: “Do I wish this person damned? Would I rather see God’s will to save this person thwarted?” If you do, then you have crossed that fiery line inside the human heart, and have begun to side with the Enemy. If it helps, remember this: The same devil who goaded that evil man to sin takes delight in his damnation. The spirit which (Pius XII believed) possessed Adolph Hitler would have been happy to meet him in Hell.
The Answer Lies in Hamlet
The best way to illustrate this point is, not surprisingly, by citing Shakespeare. No artist saw the human person with the same depth as the Bard. What causes the tragic outcome in his most famous play, Hamlet? His father’s ghost informs Prince Hamlet that his uncle, Claudius, murdered him. That he stole both his wife and his throne. The ghost asks Prince Hamlet, as the rightful heir, to justly avenge his death by killing Claudius. So far, so good. There was no judicial way to redress that wrong and depose a tyrant. So Hamlet should have just done it. There would have been no tragedy and hence not much of a play.
But Hamlet muffs his best opportunity. In Act 3 Scene 3, the Prince catches Claudius alone, unguarded, vulnerable. He could quickly and cleanly remove the tyrant and restore justice to Denmark. But Hamlet won’t act. Not out of hesitation or cowardice, but hatred. Because, you see, Hamlet sees that his uncle is kneeling to ask God for forgiveness.
Now might I do it pat. Now he is a-praying.
And now I’ll do ’t. And so he goes to heaven.
And so am I revenged.—That would be scanned.
A villain kills my father, and, for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
“May All My Enemies Go to Hell.”
Hamlet refuses. He gives up this golden chance at justice, at removing a tyrant with no innocent bloodshed. And why? Because he wants his uncle to go to Hell. He resolves to wait until Claudius reverts to his sinful ways — and to kill him then, in the midst of his sins.
If you know the play, you remember that a long list of other people (most of them innocent) die because of Hamlet’s cruel decision: Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Hamlet’s mother, and Hamlet himself. Had Hamlet loved his enemy, he still would have killed him. But wishing for his salvation, he wouldn’t have postponed this act of justice, trying to land his uncle in Hell.
Shakespeare drew on the deep Christian roots of his culture for a rich understanding of hatred, and the price it exacts. We can’t let our own responses to charges of “hate” be informed by the cheap, shallow discourse set by activist groups like the Southern Poverty Leadership Center, or the mainstream media.
We must seek the best for everyone, even our enemies, in this life and in the next. That means an ordered, virtuous life on earth and beatitude in heaven. We can settle for nothing less.