The Roots of Hate

HATE made its appearance early in man’s history. The Bible account at Genesis 4:8 says: “It came about that while they were in the field Cain proceeded to assault Abel his brother and kill him.” “And for the sake of what did he slaughter him?” asks the Bible writer John. “Because his own works were wicked, but those of his brother were righteous.” (1 John 3:12) Abel fell victim to one of the most common causes of hatred: jealousy. “The rage of an able-bodied man is jealousy,” says Proverbs 6:34. Today, jealousy over social status, wealth, resources, and other advantages continues to pit people against one another.

Ignorance and Fear

But jealousy is just one of the many causes of hatred. Oftentimes, hatred is also fueled by ignorance and fear. “Before I ever learned to hate, I learned to fear,” said a young member of a violent racist group. Such fear is most often rooted in ignorance. According to The World Book Encyclopedia, prejudiced people tend to have opinions that are “held without regard to the available evidence. . . . Prejudiced individuals tend to twist, distort, misinterpret, or even ignore facts that conflict with their predetermined opinions.”

From where do these opinions come? Says one on-line information service: “History accounts for many  cultural stereotypes, but our own personal history accounts for many of our biases too.”

In the United States, for example, the slave trade has left a legacy of tensions between many whites and people of African descent—tensions that persist to this day. Oftentimes, negative racial views are passed on from parents to children. One self-confessed white racist admitted that he thus developed negative racial feelings “in a complete absence of even the slightest contact with black people.”

Then there are those who simply believe that people who are different are no good. This opinion may be based on a solitary unpleasant encounter with someone of a different race or culture. From that, they make a quantum leap to the conclusion that everyone of that race or culture must share undesirable traits.

While bigotry is ugly enough on an individual scale, when it infects an entire nation or race, it can become lethal. The belief that one’s nationality, skin color, culture, or language makes one superior to others can breed bigotry and xenophobia (the disdain for anyone or anything foreign). During the 20th century, such bigotry was often expressed violently.

Interestingly, hatred and bigotry need not necessarily be about skin color or nationality. Researcher Clark McCauley of the University of Pennsylvania writes that “arbitrary division of individuals into two groups, even by flipping a coin, is enough to generate ingroup preference.” One third-grade teacher demonstrated this when, as part of a famous experiment, she divided  her class into two groups—blue-eyed children and brown-eyed children. Within a short time, animosities developed between the two groups. Even alliances based on things as trivial as a preference for the same sports team can result in violent clashes.

Why All the Violence?

But why are such animosities so often expressed in violent ways? Researchers have probed deeply into such issues and can still only offer theories. Clark McCauley compiled an extensive bibliography of the research done on human violence and aggression. He cites one study indicating that “violent crime is associated with waging and winning wars.” The researchers found that “nations participating in WWI and WWII, especially nations on the winning side in these wars, show increases in homicide after the war is over.” According to the Bible, we live in an age of warfare. (Matthew 24:6) Could it be that such wars have somehow contributed to the rise in other forms of violence?

Other researchers seek a biological explanation for human aggression. One research study attempted to relate some forms of aggression to “low levels of serotonin in the brain.” Another popular hypothesis is that aggression lurks in our genes. “A large part of [hate] may even be hardwired,” argued one political scientist.

The Bible itself says that imperfect humans are born with bad traits and defects. (Genesis 6:5; Deuteronomy 32:5) Of course, those words apply to all humans. But not all humans have unreasonable hatred of others. That has to be learned. Thus, well-known psychologist Gordon W. Allport observed that infants give “little . . . evidence of destructive instincts. . . . The baby is positive, approaching nearly every type of stimulus, every type of person.” Such observations argue that aggression, prejudice, and hate are primarily learned behaviors! This apparent ability of humans to learn hate is being aggressively exploited by teachers of hate.

Poisoning Minds

At the forefront are leaders of various hate groups, such as neo-Nazi skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan. These groups often target impressionable youths from dysfunctional families for recruitment. Youths suffering feelings of insecurity and inferiority may feel that hate groups offer them a sense of belonging.

The World Wide Web is a particularly powerful tool that some have used to foster hate. According to a recent tally, there may be as many as 1,000 hate-mongering Web sites on the Internet. The Economist magazine quotes the owner of one hate Web site as boasting: “The Net has provided us with the opportunity to bring our point of view to hundreds of thousands of people.” His Web site includes a “Kids’ Page.”

 When teens surf the Net for music, they can happen upon links to sites for downloading hate music. Such music is usually loud and violent, with lyrics expressing strong racist messages. These Web sites, in turn, provide links to newsgroups, chat rooms, or other Web sites that promote hate.

Some hate Web sites offer special sections containing games and activities for young people. One neo-Nazi Web site attempts to use the Bible to justify racism and anti-Semitism. The group has also created a page that offers crossword puzzles with racist comments. Its purpose? “To help the young members of the white race understand our fight.”

But not all promoters of hate are from the lunatic fringe. A sociologist who wrote about the recent conflicts in the Balkans said about certain reputable authors and public-opinion makers: “I was dumbfounded to see [them] adopt a style which panders to their compatriots’ basest impulses, stirs up their passionate hatred, blinds their judgement by urging them to see no behaviour as taboo . . . , and falsifying reality.”

Not to be overlooked in this regard is the role of the clergy. In his book Holy Hatred: Religious Conflicts of the ’90’s, author James A. Haught makes this shocking observation: “A great irony of the 1990s is that religion—supposedly a source of kindness and human concern—has taken the lead as the foremost contributing factor to hatred, war, and terrorism.”

The causes of hate are thus seen to be many and complex. Does this mean that there is no way for mankind to stop repeating the folly of its hate-filled history? Is there anything that can be done on an individual as well as on a global scale to fight the misunderstanding, the ignorance, and the fear that beget hate?

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Prejudice and hate are learned behaviors!

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We are not born with . . .

. . . feelings of hatred and bigotry

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Hate groups are using the Internet to recruit youths

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Religion has often fueled conflict

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