Several years ago news came out about the discovery of human remains at the bottom of a deep rock shaft in Spain.
Some thirty skeletons were found, with clear indications of murder.
The remains have been dated as being some 400,000 years old.
In his book, HOMO DEUS, Yuval Hararai notes that: “From the Stone Age to the age of steam, and from the Arctic to the Sahara, every person on earth knew that at any moment their neighbours might invade their territory, defeat their army, slaughter their people and occupy their land.”
Perhaps those thirty human beings, whose remains were found in Spain, died in such an invasive battle, or perhaps they simply belonged to the wrong tribe or clan or worshipped some deity not accepted by their killers.
While certainly in the 20th century we experienced wars on a massive scale, of the type Hararai speaks of, within those wars the greatest acts of hatred-murder were committed by the Nazis in the death camps, and only since the Second World War have we discovered irrefutable evidence of other mass murders such as throughout the gulag and even more recently have we been confronted with 9/11 and every terrorist act since then.
Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman once noted that: “Prejudice, after all, is superior to facts, and lives in a world of its own.”
In the 4th chapter of Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel, we are confronted with the first recorded instances of self-pity, jealously, rage, fratricide, murder in Sacred Scripture.
Since God alone sees the truth within every human heart, thus the Sacred text points clearly to Cain’s heart being deeply infected with self-centered-self-pity, jealous rejection of his brother Abel.
Thus within Cain an infection spreads from the heart to the mind to angry, hate-filled murder.
Cain’s sarcastic lie, when challenged by God after the murder, about having no idea where his brother is and rejecting his responsibility as the elder brother to lovingly, protectively care for his sibling, is summarily dealt with by God who informs Can that Abel’s blood cries out from the very earth.
“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” [1Jn.3:10-12]
Recent elections, notably in the United States, but elsewhere in the world, have been marked by profound anger, divisions, violent protests and we are witnessing around the world, in democratic countries in particular, increased anger and extremism and acts of hatred against those deemed for a plethora of reasons to be, if not outright enemies, at least a threat because their economic status, colour, political position, gender, sexual orientation, religion are rejected because they are not ‘ours’!
Hate is the most insidious of diseases of the heart and like all fatal infections has two definitive aspects: 1] ultimately it kills the host and 2] is in a sense an air-borne disease spread by word of mouth.
ISIS is nothing less than an epidemic of hate, but alt-right and alt-leftist Christians, Jews, peoples of any religion, likewise are spreaders of this same pandemic which is sickening the whole human family, weakening democracies, and may well lead to a third, and given modern weapons of mass destruction, unwinnable world war, except perhaps by the very machines, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons which will destroy us.
Words have intrinsic and extrinsic power.
Genesis repeats throughout each stage of creation, including the creation of the human person: “God said....”.
Each spoken ‘word’ results in the ‘and there was’.
The Holy Gospel, according to St. John, reminds us that in the very beginning was ‘the Word’.
The interior dialogue which stirs darkness in the human heart itself reveals the power of words.
Eventually the words spoken interiorly, churning within the ever-destructive poison of prejudice, rejection, hatred, become the emotions of anger, even murderous rage.
It matters not a whit to the innocent victims of the murderous hate to which extremist group, or the lone-wolf, hate-filled murder[s] belongs: for they are dead, just like those found in that pit in Spain or in the mountainous debris of 9/11.
However, it does matter much to those who survive a hate-filled attack, such as occurs all too frequently, sometimes by Islamic extremists, such as in Europe, or by rightist/leftist extremists such as occurred in the lone-wolf terrorist attack in Quebec City where Muslim men at prayer were murdered and wounded.
The interior dialogue of people who hate begins with words of self-hatred, self-rejection.
Sometimes this so poisons the heart that the person takes their own life, for the poison has so permeated their minds, souls, they can no longer stand the darkness and pain.
Other times the impact of the interior poisoning morphs into an extended dialogue of blaming, such as Can did of Abel, and the process begins of refusing to see other as one like myself, a human being, and constructing a list of reasons as to why they cannot possibly be one like myself, an acting person, and therefore must be a thing, an object.
Like the boiling cauldron of Shakespeare’s witches anger heats to the point of hate-filled rage and we have a 9/11, a Charlie-Hebdo, a Quebec City massacre.
Words have power.
Words are active, never passive.
Words can shred another’s dignity, hurt and shame them, reject them.
More powerful are words which affirm, welcome, accept, love, forgive, reveal mercy and compassion.
There was a story repeated often years ago after a pastoral visit by St. John Paul II to a country suffering under a military dictatorship which, admittedly I have not been able to verify, yet is, true or not, illustrative: The Pope was celebrating Holy Mass before tens of thousands of people in a stadium when into the crowd came soldiers, agents of the dictatorship, who began assaulting people and panic started.
The Holy Father stopped the Mass and repeated over and over in an ever-firmer voice: “Love is stronger! Love is stronger!”, until the bishops and priests, then the assembled choir joined him in repeating “Love is stronger!” Little by little those powerful three words moved through the crowd until it was the spoken word of everyone and the soldiers slinked away.
In Auschwitz in 1941 the Nazis choose a group of men for execution by starvation when one of the men, rather young, pleaded for his life for he was a husband and father. Before the Nazis could react, a priest stepped forward and offered himself, his life, in exchange.
Miraculously his offer was accepted.
That priest is known throughout the world as St. Maxmilian Kolbe and the young man did survive that day and the longs days after until he was among the liberated survivors.
Love IS stronger.
Each of us can, must, choose which words we speak to ourselves, and if we find we are speaking dark and hurtful words to ourselves then before the infection becomes fatal we must use our words with someone we trust – spouse, friend, priest, doctor – who can help us change the interior dialogue.
Each of us can, must, choose which words we speak to others, starting with those closest to us and extending outward to our neighbours and to strangers. If an understandable thing such as shyness makes it difficult for us to speak with strangers we can always use the non-verbal words of our eyes, so powerfully expressive and our smiles. Smiles, though in a sense wordless, nonetheless speak volumes of recognition that the one passing by upon whom I smile is a person like myself.
Constitutive of our humanity is the reality we are endowed with emotions/passions, which in and of themselves are neutral.
It is the choice we make in response to their movement within us which differentiates between a choice for good or evil, virtue or vice.
Thus, an act of terrorism may well trigger intense emotions of anger, rejection towards the person[s] who commit the act.
If we allow those emotions to remain unchecked we may well become a hater of not only the terrorist but holus-bolus of the very group, culture, religion they belong to.
That is to choose evil, indeed to become a type of emotional terrorist ourselves.
If we choose not to allow the emotion to master us, but embracing the pain and sorrow over lives lost, persons wounded, communities in upheaval, and choose to embrace, to live out the teachings of Christ then we are acting virtuously, righteously.
We all know some, like ISIS, but also Christian and Jewish extremists, seek to justify their hatred and violence by appealing to their interpretation of sacred texts.
This is obscene, disingenuous, insults God, and indeed rather than receive some illusory blessing here or in the hereafter, when such murderous-haters do appear before the awesome judgement seat of God, as He asked of Cain, so shall be asked of them: “Where is your brother?”
While it should be equally self-evident for adherents of all religions, it is constitutive of Christianity, that we the baptized are not simply expected, but commanded by God, in the words of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, to love and not to hate.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” [Mt.5:22] “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” [5:44-45]