Letter in response to Meir Soloveichik's article "The Virtue of Hate"

By William A. Dembski



Within the Christian tradition, hate toward another human being is many things but not a virtue. Among the Church fathers it was regarded as a deadly thought, a vice, a demon. It was a passion. And passion comes from the same root as passive. To be in the grip of a passion is to be acted upon by something outside oneself. It is to be out of control. For that reason the Church fathers counseled detachment as a cardinal virtue, for detachment frees us from the reign of the passions.


Certainly when one contemplates the enormity of the transgressions committed by some human beings against others, some response is called for. The question is What response? I submit that the appropriate response is justice and not hate. Justice is a virtue. Hate never is. At best it is a momentary satisfaction. John Cassian, writing in the Philokalia about hate's close cousin anger, notes: "No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul's eyes.... Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision."


Besides the harm that hate and its cousins bring to our souls, there is a deeper theological reason for not dignifying hate as a virtue. The problem is that the acts that cause us to hate others invariably arise against the backdrop of a fallen and tragic world. This is not to absolve human responsibility, but it is to acknowledge that the sins we commit are part of an ongoing tragedy and that often we are complicit in each other's sins in ways we cannot fathom. The prophet Ezekiel writes that God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners but much prefers that they repent and live. The problem with hate, ultimately, is that it gives up on people. The love of God never does.