Community members in Charlottesville, Va., hold a vigil for Heather Heyer Aug. 16. She was killed Aug. 12 during a white supremacist protest over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. CNS photo/Kate Bellows, The Cavalier Daily via Reuters

Comment: The opposite of hate is fear, not love

  • August 31, 2017

Of all the media coverage following the despicable white supremacist display in Charlottesville and the bumbling reactions from a president, one column in The Globe and Mail really stood out.

Entitled “I was a neo-Nazi. I know the cure for hate,” the opinion piece was written by a former skinhead in British Columbia named Tony McAleer.

It opens with McAleer saying that seeing the Charlottesville violence raised deep feelings of shame for the life he led during the 1990s. He mentions a couple of victims of the White Aryan Resistance, an extremist group in which he was a recruiter.

Then he moves into the meat of his message: What fuels these hatefilled movements and how can they be defeated?

Feelings of loneliness, isolation and powerlessness are exploited by extremist groups. “Everything I did, I chose to do because I got a sense of power when I felt powerless, significance and attention when I felt invisible, brotherhood and acceptance when I felt unlovable,” he writes.

Then he hooked me with the unequivocal solution for defeating these forces of evil.

“The antidote to shame is compassion. Compassion was at the heart of my transformation,” McAleer says. “One of the hardest things in the world to do is to have compassion for someone who has no compassion, but those are the very people who need it most. There is nothing more powerful than receiving compassion from someone who we feel we don’t deserve it from, especially if that person belongs to a group we had once dehumanized.”

You probably know where I’m going with this. Without naming anyone, the former skinhead is talking about someone who has been teaching us this same message for 2,000 years. Unfortunately, too often we forget His teachings, whether in everyday vicious online attacks of others’ views or actual physical violence.

At the heart of the teachings of Jesus is compassion, inclusion and love, especially in the Gospel of Luke and the theology of John. As Luke (6:31) writes: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

There are so many examples, but one of the best related to the issue here is the Good Samaritan, who helped a traveller in distress when other more righteous people walked on by. Samaritans were descended from northern tribes and were often excluded because they were looked down upon by other Jewish groups of the time. But the Good Samaritan did not allow this bigotry to impact his compassion and prevent him from helping someone in need.

Another pertinent parable is the Prodigal Son, a powerful story because it opens up different perspectives and allows different readers to identify with different characters: the reckless son, the dutiful son, the compassionate father. These hate-filled extremist groups cannot identify with others because they lack the compassion and empathy to see the humanity in others, McAleer writes.

John writes in his first epistle (4:18) that Jesus teaches us that fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

So much of this racism and violence is based on fear. And that leads to hate and exclusion. And ultimately deaths, as we saw in Charlottesville.

The former neo-Nazi closes with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., no doubt inspired by the teachings of Jesus: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

While reading that Globe article, I was struck by a sense of irony. We live in an increasingly secular society, often fuelled by the mainstream media which seems to bend over backwards to avoid religion and promote secularism.

When Catholicism, for example, is mentioned in the media, it is usually in negative ways, such as: Ontario’s separate school system is out-of-date in the 21st century, the Church subjugates women to second-class status, and so on.

Rarely, if ever, do we see anything extolling the virtues of Jesus and His teachings in Canada’s mainstream media. It makes me wonder if the editors of Canada’s national newspaper even recognized that that was what this reformed skinhead was doing. Regardless, I tip my hat to McAleer and his non-profit organization Life After Hate for reminding readers of important lessons dating back 2,000 years.

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