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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Hate Hate

I don't understand hate.

Oh, not the kind of hate that makes your stomach lurch when you look at a plate of lima beans and you hate your mother for making you eat them (With apologies for those of you who actually like lima beans. Please don't hate me.).

Or, the kind of hate you feel in your heart when you really, really need some sleep and your neighbors are having a party in their back yard and it's 2 AM and you actually contemplate committing an act of violence.

I'm talking about the kind of hate that makes people hate other people so much that they want to kill them. Or worse, eliminate a whole class or group of people from the face of the earth.

I have read and studied the psychology of hate and I "know" that a piece of it can come from a primal fear - a Xenophobia - of others who are "different" and therefore perceived as a threat.

Indeed, I've been the object of such hate myself.

I still don't understand it.

So, yesterday, this article appeared in the local newspaper.
CHATHAM - Police are looking for the people responsible for scattering pieces of paper with the words "kill Jews'' scrawled on them in the area of Main Street and Tallmadge Avenue last Wednesday, police said.

At about 8:20 a.m., police walked the street from 1 Main St. to Passaic Avenue and collected a total of 35 pieces of paper with the same writing, scribbled in black marker.

Police were unable to locate any suspects and it is unknown how long the pieces of paper were on the sidewalk.

The following day, more pieces of paper were found on Fairmount Avenue with the same writing on them.

The Morris County Prosecutor's Office was notified and is assisting in this investigation.

Summit and Millburn police departments have reported similar incidents in the past.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the Chatham Borough Police Department.
This is Chatham, NJ. Affluent, suburban Chatham. A community of about 8,500 people, 96.7% of whom are Caucasian. The average home costs around $600,000. More than half the town self-identifies as being Republican and "religious" with 38% claiming to be Roman Catholic, 8% Protestant and 7% Jewish.

Summit and Millburn are nearby affluent suburban communities in the "serious suburbs" of Northern New Jersey.

These are, for the most part, sleepy little "bedroom communities" filled with highly educated people who insist on excellent education for their children. And, for the most part, they get it.

Summit and Millburn have way more diversity than does Chatham, but with the NFL Training Camp located in the next town, we are getting more and more people of color living in town - mostly because of the school system.

We're also seeing more women in full length dresses and head scarfs around town whose husbands work at the nearby Pharmaceutical Companies. We do have some apartment complexes that rent at standard market rate that are conveniently located near the train station. And then, there is the school system.

Who could have done this? Theories abound:

Restless adolescents at the end of the school year on a hot summer night (an easy place to start)?

"Visiting" Tea Baggers? (I have no doubt there are some "Tea Party" members in Republicanville but I would be shocked to find actual "Tea Baggers" living in our midst).

The recent Gaza Flotilla Crisis ?

The state of the economy, the rise of anxiety and the need to "shame and blame" someone?

I have a very clear memory from my childhood. It was a beautiful summer day and I was skipping rope on the sidewalk in front of our tenement house with some of my friends. A group of adolescent boys from another neighborhood came by and started taunting us for being "dirty Greenhorns".

The taunts soon escalated to the boys taking our jump rope. Just as my anxiety began to rise, my grandmother appeared from the front of the house. She had a garden hose in her hand and turned it on full blast, taking direct aim at the boys.

They whooped and hollered and yelled at her, "You crazy old woman!" But, they soon walked away - soaking wet.

My grandmother looked at us and said, "That's the way you handle mad dogs."

They don't make them like my grandmother anymore. Perhaps they should. Perhaps what we really need is someone like my beloved VaVoa to come and lower the temperature of hate with a cold splash of reality.

There is, of course, no excuse for the behavior of hate fueled by prejudice. No matter the age of the person or persons who littered the town with the hateful message to 'kill Jews', it's still stupid, adolescent behavior.

And, it's behavior that is filled with hate - and rage.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Prejudice kills brain cells.

Which is why the work of justice requires persistence and vigilance.

It's easy to 'tsk tsk' this away as an aberration. An unseemly and impolite public 'burp' in an upscale, polite town.

Parents have been trying to do that with the increase in teen drinking, drunk driving and under-age 'house parties' that have also been in the news. Thankfully, we have other parents in town who have been putting up signs all over their lawns that warn about the consequences for lack of parental supervision: "Under age drinking? Parents lose the most."

It's meant to be a sobering message. A cold slap of reality like my grandmother's water hose.

I think members of religious communities have a special responsibility to speak out against hate and the fear that fuels it.

Perhaps we need another "lawn sign" campaign to get out the message that "hate is not a family value". Not in this town. Not if you live here. Not if you are 'just visiting'. Not no-how. Not nowhere.

We've apparently got some work to do in Chatham this summer.

It's just a long shot, but I have a sense that you do, in your town, too.

What did you do on your 'summer vacation'?

I worked for zero-tolerance of hate!

Sounds like a great essay for the Fall.

Or, for that matter, any time. Any where.

But, especially right now. Right here.

Because, if it can happen in Chatham, it can happen anywhere.


claire said...

So strange, Elizabeth. I understand hate. I feel it in myself sometimes. This does not mean I like it. But I don't hate it either.

Someone 'holy' once talked of watching the self as if a snake trapped in a room with him.

Hate is a signal. I could call it 'profound dislike' or 'antipathy'. I could hide hate under another word...

But any emotion that create a sudden burst of violence in the depth of my guts has to receive its real name.

Hate, forgiveness, letting go... all these will accompany till I die. Hopefully the closer I will get to death, the wiser and better I will become...

Thank you.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I understand the kind of hate that is, I think, part of being human. It's that revulsion, sometimes mixed with some fear, of what I don't like or don't understand.

I even understand the hate that results in the impulse to retaliate when someone has done a hateful thing to me or someone I love.

I don't understand the kind of hate that leads one to do murder or to take action that would eliminate an entire race or ethnicity or group of people from the face of the earth.

But, that's just me. And, yes, hate, forgiveness and letting go will be our companions on this early pilgrimage. I would like to become "wiser and better" long before I get too much closer to death but then again, I have always been such a dreamer.

seek the truth said...

Here's a couple of interesting sites, Elizabeth:

check them out and report back.

Anonymous said...

Mother Elizabeth,

I'm with you on the hate thing, except I know that I still harbor some deep in my heart for a particular ethnic group that was at odds with mine and from whom I endured taunts and real violence when I was younger. Now, I have ministered to congregations made up mostly of that ethnicity and have been ministered to by clergy -- and laity, too!-- of the same. Its the Christian faith that is saving me from my hate. (I don't mean the white guilt indoctrination sessions that are put on in churches)

But one thing-- isn't it unfair to tar "the teabaggers" with the ethnic/racial/religious hate brush? Don't check your brain/discernment capacity at the Democratic Party registration table.

a fellow priest

Joie said...

Ugh! This must be a theme today because on my way from the church to the bank, someone was parked near the church with Rush Limbaugh spewing hate very loudly from the radio and then on my way home, I passed what I now understand to be a LaRouche group at the DMV with signs comparing the President to Hitler and demanding he be impeached.

rick allen said...

I, too, have no problem understanding hatred. Most adults do indeed lead lives of "quiet desperation." Most are responsible for children, or parents, or others, who are directly affected by my success in a competitive society. If I don't get that job, or if I lose this one, or if someother setback occurs, those for whom I am responsible will suffer, and for most that's a hard, hard consequence.

That alone doesn't make people hateful. But combine that quiet desparation with a cacaphony of voices assuring us that those difficulties can be attributed to this or that group, and of course hatred will result.

By and large I don't think that we hate people because they threaten us; more, I see, we hate those who threaten those whom we love or those for whom we care. Those without ties neither love deeply nore hate deeply. Those who instigate hatred are often, also, those without deep ties themselves. But the resulting hatred is understandable, if unjustifiable (even if the group slanders have some modicum of truth).

section9 said...

I don't get it.

You publish a cartoon by Cox and Forkum that draws a comparison between the Klan and Militant Islam, and you wonder whom in your little corner of New York would want to "kill the Jews"?

Indeed, during the "Round Up the Usual Suspects" section of your post, your suspicion falls on one of the Enemies Of The People trotted out by lefties everywhere, the dreaded "Tea Baggers" (actually, they call themselves "Tea Partiers", but what's a cheap and derisive insult to a priest, eh?).

Has the notion that you might have some militant Islamists about been considered by you?

Oh, by the way, "Tea Baggers" is last months White House meme. They are now rolling out "Tea Klanners". Get with the program.