The cost of hate vs. the healing of authentic dealings

University of the Philippines students display glasses with lit candles and a placard as a tribute to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., during a protest at the school campus in Quezon city, Metro Manila, on June 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Erik De Castro

University of the Philippines students display glasses with lit candles and a placard as a tribute to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., during a protest at the school campus in Quezon city, Metro Manila, on June 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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Three week-end stories about mass murders help frame crisis issues. The first recalls the murders of nine blacks in and during church in Charleston, South Carolina, exactly one year ago by a white supremacist. (New York Times, June 16). The same paper, the same day, front page, dealt with “Young New York Muslims, Robbed of a Respite” because of anti-Muslim speech and actions after the mass murder in Orlando. The third, same day, in the Wall Street Journal, dealt with “Orlando Shooting Leaves Gay Survivors, Mourning Families Struggling with Secrets,” also by reference to the Orlando killings.

Reporters, commentators, and the people they quote, reach for some reflections by others to guide their own. Mine were evoked by a sixty-year old (in my mind, classic) work on The Functions of Social Conflict, by Lewis Coser, who was commenting on still older work by German sociologist Georg Simmel. I have long and often used it to make sense of those who try to make sense of the Orlando killer and his mad motivations.

People ask: Was he prompted by hatred of Muslims, since he quoted Islamic themes, or by hatred, perhaps mixed with self-hatred, of gays? Answer: yes. Both. What psychologists and, in this case, theologians and pastors alike are pondering: What is the root of the killing actions? Answer: hatred, of course, but we have to say a bit more than that. So I reread lines from Coser, imprinted on my mind.

He quotes Else Frenkel-Brunswick on “the ethnocentric personality” of a hater: “even his hate is mobile and can be directed from one object to another.” And John Dewey: that people “do not shoot because targets exist, but they set up targets in order that throwing and shooting may be more effective and significant.” These killers set up blacks or Muslims or gays etc. etc. to convert their killing instincts into what they expect will be “effective and significant action.”

There is more, of course. In all cases, they had to turn those near to them into strangers—Simmel was savvy about that, too. Religious texts often deal with the subject; the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament Gospels, for instance, spend far more energy on how to have positive approaches to the stranger than to the neighbor or family-member.

Haters either have to keep on finding new strangers to be “set up as targets,” or they have to convert those close-by into strangers. And those who turn out to be strangers demand new appraisals. In the biblical texts (and not in them alone), the means and the goal are to break down barriers—often based on ignorance—and to inspire love and care.

Here is where the Wall Street Journal comes in. Jennifer Levitz and Cameron McWhirter focus on families struggling with secrets in the aftermath of the Orlando murders. These authors describe mourners, this time pictured in prayer, at worship, during commemorations, who found out only after their son or brother or sister died that their relative was gay “with Secrets.” The now-deceased could not share profound aspects of their lives full of joys and struggles with those closest to them—usually because these family members, often on religious grounds, would have rejected them or, in terms used by the WSJ column, would have hated them.

Many of the week’s stories reflected positively on religious counselors and other leaders who have used the occasion to learn and teach more about the costs of hate and about the healing that comes with knowledge, honesty, plus frank and open dealing with the humans in front of them, and not the “targets” they set up. Whites and blacks, gays and straights, the pious and impious, Christians and Muslims, have their work cut out for them, but, at best, these new occasions can inspire them to seek and put to work new resources for dealing with them.


Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at

This post appears courtesy of Sightings, a publication of the University of Chicago Divinity School's Martin Marty Center.

To read previous issues of Sightings, click here.


  1. Hate is a bad habit. It’s the bad habit of choosing our sub human thinking process over the thinking process that is proof we progressed beyond monkeys. Hate is an extension of fear of existential, real or perceived, threats. Originally it was to protect us from preditor fish. The Bible suggests it is better to practice the good habit of relying on our more progressed thinking process than thinking like a scared fish.

    “The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”
    Leviticus 26: 36-37

  2. Very good Rev. Marty. So if he hadn’t targeted LBTG, he would have chosen another group. It’s not about the group as much as the need to create one to serve as a target.

    I wonder if that holds true for Sandy Hook? The killer’s mother worked there, so that was a convenient target? It seems likely the killer knew some of the victims, but according to Dewey, he would have had to make them into strangers in his mind.

    How about workplace murderers? They’re killing their colleagues.

    I need to think about this more.

  3. That’s just another way of minimizing and denying the anti-LGBT hatred behind Orlando.

  4. People for the most part don’t hate in general, though there certainly are such. I read in the welsh Mabinogion once that one of the lesser gods so hated his family that when he could no longer hurt them, he tore at the grass so that he could at least hurt SOMETHING.

    People don’t hate in general, they hate in particular. In Mateen’s case, his father, no winner in the decent people sweepstakes, said that he was angry over seeing two men kissing. No doubt. Combine that with toxic religion and the easy availability of guns, and you have this kind of sickness. I have no doubt myself that he was a homosexual hating homosexual, and so targeted them/himself for that reason.

    That being said, when you scratch an old bigotry, you are most likely going to find a shiny new bigot underneath. You can occasionally see it on these very pages; someone who hates gay people also hates Catholics, or Jews, or whatever, if you really want to see it, go to one of the very conservative websites.

    All of that being said, I’m not sure I agree entirely with Mr. Marty. Not all bigotry is hate. So much of it is a never failing and completely unwarranted belief in one’s superiority as a human being, with the concomitant privileging and God-like regard of self. People whom you are far superior to– or in Mateen’s case, I’m certain,that you are afraid you are no different from– simply do not matter as people, just as they don’t matter to the biblical God, who in the flood wiped out the little babies who could not have sinned even if they wanted to.

    And that is, I think a key to this, that I have long suspected. People like Mateen, and a host of grifting televangelists, and some of the people who post on these very pages, have way over-identified with God. They are god’s BFFF. They are just as righteous as God, even though they deprecate themselves as being sinners. It even allows them to say, in a godlike way, that they love everyone, when they obviously don’t.

  5. Ben, I think what you said here is really key:

    “People . . . that you are afraid you are no different from.”

    I think that plays a bigger role than generally acknowledged, and not only in homophobic crimes. I think much of violence against others is an attempt to demonstrate that very thing.

    I don’t know if Rev. Marty is reading this, but I hope so because I’d like to hear his thoughts on our comments. I used to faithfully read his column in “The Lutheran” and I know he is a thoughtful person.

  6. Hate for many is certainly a means to an end. This is true for slick preachers on the political make who find LGBTs and Muslims convenient targets. We should however differentiate between the manipulators and the manipulated. The former group includes hate preachers like our Religious Right, ISIS, and hate radio talkmeisters. and the latter includes dupes like Mateen and Marc Lepine.

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