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Hating: Ethically

Hating: Ethically

Keith Kahn-Harris, writing at Comment is free in The Guardian, discusses How to hate ethically.

What person could say they have never hated? From the momentary hate of a child directed at a parent who denies them another portion of ice-cream, to the hate directed at a love rival, to the hate directed at a proponent of a rival ideology – hate unites us. Perhaps few of us are contorted by the continuous corrosive hate that a fundamentalist zealot or an obsessive stalker demonstrate, but all of us have felt those occasional spasms that both frighten and invigorate us.

While hate may be a near-universal tendency, it is also a near-universal problem. There isn’t a religion, moral code or political ideology in the world that advocates constant hate. Indeed, some religions advocate the active resistance to, and liberation from hate.


Perhaps part of the widespread concern about hate is that it implies an uncontrollable, violent force that can rip social bonds asunder. It is something to either be channelled in certain directions or to be fought and suppressed. For this reason, it is seen as beyond the bounds of ethics, or only ethical when it is directed at certain kinds of people, practices and ideals. Hate is destructive, yes, but it is a productive kind of destructiveness that some try to harness for certain purposes.


Hating ethically means accepting our hatred, but working hard on how we actually express it. How might this work in practice? I have three brief suggestions:

First of all, when we express our hate, we do not have to imply that this expression necessarily represents our most elevated feelings. Nor do we have to justify our hate as high principle. Instead, we can acknowledge our hate for what it is – inevitable human frailty – even while we express it. …

My second suggestion is that we explore our hate in the world of art. …

My third suggestion – and the most counterintuitive – is that hate can also be expressed politely and civilly. …

Read more here.


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Benedict Varnum

I think the article’s missed it.

I wouldn’t think of “hate” as something natural to us — “anger” comes to mind as fitting that bill, and in the case of anger, I’d agree that it’s an emotion, and as such, can not and should not be repressed, but given voice through an appropriate channel of some kind.

I’d distinguish hate from anger by saying hate involves a willful refusal to remain in relationship to its object. If I’m angry with you and let you know, it’s because I want to repair the relationship and let you know how I’m experiencing something that you’re also involved in (I’m trying to be careful to avoid language such as “YOU are MAKING me feel this way”).

If I hate you, though, I am refusing to see you as a child of God. I am refusing to see dignity in you. In doing so, I am giving myself less freedom by refusing to use gifts given to me by my humanity . . . empathy, compassion and patience come to mind.

Richard E. Helmer

…but it is a productive kind of destructiveness that some try to harness for certain purposes.


Hatred, like love, is cultivated over time and reinforced by behavior, thinking, and even our prayer life (just read the Psalms.)

I think the Gospel and Christian tradition are ultimately pretty clear on which of the two we are called to spend our time focussing on.

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