Hatred and Revenge

Hate fist

Must we hate?

If it’s our obligation to fight for what we believe in–to fight for what is right–how are we supposed to drum up the passion? Isn’t hate the best way to do this?

Fighting is by definition nasty. But there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to do it. So you’d better fight to win.

What does this matter? You’re never going to change most people’s minds, right?

True. But consider:

  1. You might be able to change some people’s minds; and
  2. You still have to live with people whom you disagree with, and real-estate is limited.

Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, and fighting is inevitable. Fighting, by definition, is nasty, but if you’re going to do it, you’d better fight to win.

Fighting is a necessary evil, and when engaging in a necessary evil, it needs to be mitigated to the greatest extent possible.

But there is danger in assuming malice and evil on the part of your opponents. If you view opponents as subhuman, you’ll do anything to them. Anything.

Hanlon’s razor is the name of this philosophical tenet: You shouldn’t assume malice when carelessness or stupidity will suffice as explanations.

I like this. It’s clever. I don’t think it always applies, and I also think it can blind you to actual malice, but it’s a decent starting point.

Most people believe that they are doing good when they fight for something or hold a particular position. Doing good is a much more sustainable motivation for most people than hatred and anger.

The trick comes, however, when the results of one’s positions are verifiably proven to be harmful. At that point, continuing to push for them may very well be the result of malice.

The trick has to be to, generally, fight for and against ideologies, not people.

On Fighting In General

For Christians like me, this might be a conundrum. The natural impulse–the natural necessity–to fight, to stick up for ourselves, is in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ.

Or is it?

As Jason Berggren puts it using the story of the adultress as an example, Jesus was the most judgmental person ever:

[T]he religious people in a specific town tried to entrap Jesus so they could find a reason to kill him. What they did was trick a woman into commit adultery, caught her in the act, and brought her to the town square to stone her (of course, the first question is, where was the guy?). In his brilliance, Jesus answers the religious people with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, they all dropped their rocks and split.

But did you know Jesus judged the woman after all that? That’s right. The last words Jesus said to her was, “Go and sin no more.”

This shows that He did stand up and fight back, or be willing to fight back, too. And turning the other cheek was a prohibition against personal revenge, not a call for meek submission in the face of all aggression.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, right?

There’s also that little bit about vengeance being God’s domain and no one else’s.

So the problem isn’t fighting per se–just war theory, after all, was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The issue is with hate. Whether it’s war or politics, I argue that hatred, though a natural human inclination, is counterproductive.

In art, it’s a different story. Sometimes hatred can produce fantastic art (Pink Floyd’s late-1970s catalog is proof of this, as is most of Nine Inch Nails’ recorded output). But life is different.

I think most problems occur when we have malice in our heart.


Before I begin, a disclaimer: I never served in the military, and I in no way claim to be an expert on fighting or when and how to send our soldiers into harm’s way. I’m just a student of history and of human nature basing my conclusions on an interpretation of the record.

Even when fighting evil people like ISIS, I don’t think bloodshed should be enjoyed, even if you’re on the side of the angels. Neither should humiliating your enemies. In other words, revenge.

Look at what happened at the end of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles blamed Germany for the entire war and forced them to pay reparations. This lead to a ruined economy, social unrest, political turmoil, and anger . . . the perfect circumstances for the rise of a powerful dictator like Hitler.

And let’s not forget that, while Hitler absolutely thought he was doing good, he had a lot of hatred in his heart, and he sure assumed that his opponents were acting out of malice. In today’s parlance, his thought process might go something like, “How dare the Poles and the Greeks and the English oppose me taking over their countries! They must be hate-filled bigots! And those Jews . . . I wish they’d all just die.”

Somehow, though, somehow the Allies–particularly the Americans and the British–were able to fight the Germans and the Japanese without dehumanizing them and committing atrocities. Suffice it to say at the end of the Second World War, the losers were treated far differently than they were at the end of the First, and the world has been arguably better off for it.

In war resolution in defeat defiance in victory magnaminity in peace good will - Winston Churchill

Abraham Lincoln understood this as well. Controversially, he was relatively easy on the Confederacy at the close of the Civil War, preferring to have them back as full members of the Union rather than exacerbate the tensions and hatreds that would take generations to dissipate. Some argue whether Lincoln was too lenient on the Rebels, but there hasn’t been another American Civil War since, so perhaps he did the best he could in a terrible situation.

It’s not as simplistic as “not becoming what you hate.” It’s a matter of minimizing the evil done. The Vietnam War was a fiasco in part due to the doctrine of proportional response. Perhaps an overwhelming use of force by the U.S., while brutal, could have ended the war sooner. That’s the same theory behind usage of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Further, sometimes you have to fight on the terms dictated by your opponent. Everybody used mustard gas in World War I because the other side was. It was so horrible, mustard gas hasn’t been used since. The Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction also demonstrates that using the same playbook as your opponent can paradoxically prevent more bloodshed.

I’m not saying the U.S. and other Western nations should start burning captured ISIS terrorists alive or perform other tortures. But a swift, brutal response can prevent wars from being dragged out for years.

But the important thing is that such fighting is done defensively and not for revenge.

And take my assessment with a grain of salt, because I’m basing it on a historian’s perspective and not a military man’s. But you’re smart. You get my point.


What do you do when you’re just having a discussion about some political hot-button issue, or getting ready to go to the polls? Does hatred have a place there?

Political rally

Here’s an example of something that you probably should never talk about at the dinner table: Immigration. People get heated about it. However, it is 100% possible to want to control a nation’s borders and the intake of immigrants without hating those seeking to come in.

The counter-position usually comes from a place of compassion: Of course we have to let people in. They are fleeing persecution or coming for a better job and a better life. You obviously hate them if you don’t want to throw the borders open wide.

An extreme example, but you get my point.

Abortion, the Second Amendment, and hate-speech laws are other examples of political issues where each side thinks they’re doing good while thinking that the other side are mini-Hitlers who want nothing more than to gas their opponents into non-existence.

Another extreme example, although given the tenor on the Internet, is it really?

The point is, you get nowhere discussing things from this angle. You will never change anybody’s mind by calling them a hater, a bigot, a loser, and hoping that they die. Shocking, I know, but those debate tactics don’t work.

If this is your argument method of choice, maybe you should ask yourself what you hope to get out of the argument in the first place. Does tearing somebody down make you feel good? That sure sounds like revenge to me.

Or maybe you’re just a troll.

I repeat: Don’t assume malice on the part of your political opponents unless it is demonstrably provable that their ideas result in greater harm than good, and the harm is deliberate.

And if your ideas result in more harm than good, there’s no shame in reevaluating them. That’s what objective standards are for.


It’s in our nature to fight. Sometimes we have to. When your very existence is threatened by something, it’s foolish to think you can hug it out.

There are also fights where words, not bullets, are flying. These fights can also have huge implications; Brexit is a great recent example of this.

In both types of fighting, if you’re going to hate, hate the ideologies and not the people. This way you’re more likely to (a) avoid doing anything stupid, (b) end the conflict sooner, (c) change people’s minds, and (d) be able to coexist, assuming the other side isn’t literally trying to kill you.

So fight if you must, because at times you must. But don’t fall in love with it.

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