Confronting and Resisting Theologies of Fear and Hatred

Recently, we have seen an upsurge in anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-woman, anti-trans violence. It seems the common denominator here is "anti"--people against that which they perceive as "the Other." From ISIL and Boko Haram engaging in horrific attacks against all manner of people, to police departments in the United States covering up murders of black people to a man attacking a Planned Parenthood to Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s all too familiar Islamophobia, it might appear that we are beset on all sides by fear, anger, and hatred. More to the point, we seem to be beset by hatred fueled by religious fervor.

Looking at Falwell in particular, he responded to the San Bernardino mass shooting by calling on Christians to arm themselves and, apparently, kill Muslims. "If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them," Falwell, Jr. said. His statement reveals a dualism that is based in religion--and, yes, race. Who are the "good people"? To his thinking, American Christians are "good" and Muslims are "bad."

Let me be unequivocally clear here: the thread that runs from ISIL to Donald Trump to Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a theology of hate. It is a theology that sees God as punitive. It sees God as hateful towards the very creation that it is supposed to love. It is a perverse, demonic theology that positions God as favoring a few to the destruction of many. This god to whom ISIL and Trump and Falwell are devoted is not new. Sadly, we have seen this throughout human history. I will violate Godwin's Law and point us back to Adolf Hitler, the modern expression of such demonic theology. He, like ISIL and Trump and Falwell, claimed that his xenophobia was on behalf of the nation and, yes, God. Indeed, contrary to some attempts at claiming otherwise, Adolf Hitler used Christianity and religious rhetoric to bolster his nationalist views. We saw this during the darkest days of segregation and lynching in the southern United States. Whites who felt that God was on their side thought nothing of enacting laws that oppressed generations of black people, and engaging in terrorism against black bodies.

The fearful and cowardly will retreat into the comforting rhetoric of hate and violence. They will retreat into this rhetoric and attempt to bolster it with appeals to God. The gun and the epithet are their weapons, but they are not as powerful as they hope they would be--and they know that, which is why they spend much of their time attempting to make others afraid. They will seize upon the moments in which humans are cruel to others and append apocalyptic and violent language to those events. Those who live there know that, as Martin Luther King once said, "the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends towards justice." That justice of which he spoke is not the justice of the AR-15 or the hate-whipping frenzy of fear. The justice to which King--and others throughout our world's violent history--spoke is the justice that comes when people act towards others out of love and not fear. This love is not sentimental nonsense the likes of which proffered by diamond companies. This is why it is vitally important for all of us to call the Falwells and the Trumps out for their theologies of hate. This is why it is important for us who to work to reform our religious institutions so they do not become safe havens of bigotry and fear.

We combat theologies of hate and fear by presenting different views of God and the world. We who see the world differently, who might see the possibilities of God and the world for deep appreciation of difference must share what St. Thomas Aquinas calls the "beatific vision," or, the immediate knowledge of God in our lives. That may take multiple forms, from Christian mysticism to Buddhist conceptions of enlightenment. We know that there is beauty in our world's religious traditions, but the fearful and hate-driven will always seek to turn those religions into religions of power and theologies of hate. We have it within us to refuse, resist, and rebuke those narrow views and promote theologies that heal rather than harm.