Hate Preachers

Hate is somewhat blown upon at the moment. The horrific murder, nay, the vile butchery of innocent soldier Lee Rigby in a London street tells its own tale. Were hate preachers responsible? Should the British government ban them? As a professional preacher, I declare an interest. I have listened to hundreds of Christian sermons and I tell you that 95% of them were utterly and totally dull. Wishy-washy, insipid waffling. Unmemorable bilge. They first made you yawn, then they put you to sleep. Occasionally, snoring was heard. And that by putative followers of Jesus of Nazareth, a fiery Jew who made people so angry that they put him on a cross and crucified him. Scandalous!

But Jesus preached love...True. More, he was Love Incarnate. But this divine Love could also preach hate. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (St Luke 14:26) Not the words of a man of moderation, a middle-class, bleating Anglican Vicar, are they?

Kierkegaard, an ultra-radical Christian, attacked Bible translators who felt the shock of that little word, ‘hate’ - misein in Greek - was too much for the bourgeois church-goer. The great Dane realised that watering down the impact of Jesus’ words was the greatest sin. The unctuous homilies of the priests of the state Lutheran Church were especially hateful to him. What did such molluscs have in common with the apostles, the martyrs, the Christian heroes who overthrew the knackered pagan civilisation and built a new type of man, a new world?

What should a preacher preach about grave sins like, say, abortion? Should he not hate it? Should he not denounce it? Should he not condemn it? Should he be silent about it? Should he collude with it? Should he love the deliberate, planned, cold extermination of the unborn, perhaps? A preacher who did that- and some exist, alas, may God forgive them - would be of Satan’s party, not God’s.

And war? Unjust, aggressive war? That scourge of humanity. Shouldn’t the preacher name and shame warmongers? Shouldn’t he expose them? Shouldn’t the preacher inveigh against the Blairs of this world? The criminal guilt of Western government in that respect? Pope John Paul II, frail and infirm as he was, did not fail to let the warmongers know he was against the invasion of Iraq. His feeble voice was powerful. From his wheelchair, he spoke out against war as strongly as he could. He was not listened to, the nasty warmongers ignored him...yet he indomitably preached the truth.

Or take idolatry. A most grievous crime, from the point of view of monotheism. A man called Boniface, a devout Englishman from Crediton, in Devon, travelled to Germany as a missionary, preaching and baptising the local pagans. One day in Hesse he did something daring. He cut down the oak sacred to Wotan, the heathen deity. Boniface hated paganism, as indeed he should have. His apostolic action grew out of that. (Today idols are back!) I suspect St Boniface today might be arrested as a ‘hate preacher’. Or as an environmental vandal, who knows?

But, I hear you say, surely ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner’? That hallowed but hollow cliche’. What!? Love the card-sharper and blame the cards? Is that supposed to be right? Nonsense! Love is better than hate – Christian love certainly is like that. If there was no sin there would be no need to hate sinners but, short of the Parousia – the Second Coming of Christ – hatred has its uses. Besides, Christian love is not like any old type of love. It can be tough. Tough love, yep. Christian love is no sentimental, soppy affair but it is guided by intelligence and wisdom.

Take the love of the enemy enjoined by Christ. That invites the question ‘how’. How do I love my enemy? I have to use my loaf. If it is a matter of personal insult I can turn the other cheek (bloody hard!) but...what if the enemy is mugging an old lady down the road? Do I raise her head so the mugger may strike her again? No, I stop the villain, trying to use proportional force. By stopping him from wrongdoing, I show my care for him. Because violence on the weak and the helpless morally hurts the perpetrator, too.

The truth is that love and hatred can coexist. The cosmology of the Greek philosopher Empedocles instantiates that. The world consists of four natural elements – earth, air, water and fire. Throughout aeons of time they get combined and divided in varying degrees. Love brings them together, while hatred separates them. Sometimes love gains the upper hand, at other times hatred prevails. (Empedocles calls it ‘strife’.) Only when the mythical, primeval Golden Age returns will love rule all things. The whole scheme is cyclical – it goes on forever. Of course, this is not Christianity. Still, Empedocles recognised the key role of strife and tried to make sense of its universal reality, while still prioritising love.

The hate preachers targeted right now are not philosophers or Vicars but Islamists. Do they speak for Islam or not? That is for Muslims to say. Their sacred texts are open to various interpretations. Muslims are not Quakers but their religion contains many elements of peace. (Christianity too, the religion of love, has too often fallen short of her Divine Master’s teaching...) It is imperative that genuine and learned scholars should represent their faith, not ignorant rabble rousers and buffoons like...you get my drift.

There are already laws against incitement to murder and mayhem. No reason to curtail freedom of speech. Existing laws just have to be enforced. Lesson: the priest believes Cross and Crescent should be allies. They should fight together against evils such as the above. The Establishment fears that alliance like the plague – surely a proof that it is a good thing. Deo Volente, it will be.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 May 2013 00:42

Frank Gelli I am an Anglican priest and cultural critic and commentator. I have BA in Philosophy, MA in Christian Ethics, MA in Islamic Studies, PGCE in Religious Education and Oxford Certificate in Theology. I have been a journalist & drama critic in Italy and England.
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