What if we become what we despise? During a heated exchange with two of her critics from my alma mater (Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths), Jean Elshtain cited Cardinal George in defense of her book Just War on Terror. The Cardinal, likewise responding to radical critics of the American project, stated that one “cannot effectively criticize what [one] loathe[s].” This gives us some insight into ping-pong rhetoric that passes for conversation in so much of our church and society. Social media has only made this worse. But why is it that we cannot critique what we loathe? Is it simply because hatred is blinding?
Turns out it goes deeper than that. In his new book, Fr. Richard Rohr observes,
“We all become well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while. Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.”
Thus the one who hates crime becomes the vigilante; hatred of racism can beget reverse racism; those who despise socialism may end up embracing an unmoored capitalism that is as problematic and vicious as that which they were trying to avoid.
At the risk of committing my new favorite logical fallacy, an excellent historical example would be Stalin and Hitler. As I was taught in my history coursework (my original academic love), these leaders had such polar opposite ideologies, they were so far from each other on the political spectrum, that they practically touched. Other historical examples could be deployed here, of course. The French Revolution, despising monarchy, ended up with an Emperor. The Russian Revolution, in hoping to empower the peasants against the despised monarchy, likewise ended in tyranny.
We cannot critique what we loathe, because we become what we loathe – and never do we have less insight than with our own flaws. Hatred not only blinds, it transforms us into the object of our hate. A vicious, pathetic cycle indeed.
A healthy, but scary question: how are you similar to that which you despise most?