Hearing about a bomb going off in Jerusalem is entirely different when you have two daughters living there. You scramble for your phone. You search out your kids.
Any potential delay in their answering their cells is painful. You finally get through. Thank God, they’re all right. But what of those who aren’t? Those maimed and killed who were also someone’s daughters, sons, mothers and fathers?
The news lately has been sickening. And while the Japanese earthquake is not something we can control, the knifing of 3-year-old children in Israel, bombs against civilians in Jerusalem, live fire against protesters in Bahrain and the use of helicopter gunships against Arab civilians in Libya are things we can stop.
So why don’t we?
Why does evil continue to flourish so mightily in the year 2011? How is that Gadhafi, who owns the home literally next door to me in Englewood, N.J., could get away with blowing up planes and discos for 40 years and only when he starts using rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) against demonstrators is declared by an American president to have “lost the legitimacy to rule”? Why has the Mafioso Assad family continued to rule Syria for decades? And how can Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah continue to murder Jewish civilians and barely pay any price with the international community?
Because we have forgotten how to hate evil.
Early Christians, like St. Paul, embraced the Jewish Bible but rejected what they called the “vengeful” God of the Old Testament. In his place they gave us Jesus, a deity who they said was synonymous with love. Hate no longer had any place, including hating evil. So, whereas the Hebrew God says explicitly in the book of Malachi, “I love Jacob but I hate Esau,” where the former is representative of those who struggle for peace and the latter is a symbol of those who live by the sword, Jesus says in the New Testament that one must love even one’s enemies and turn the other cheek to an attack, seemingly advocating passivity in the face of blind cruelty.
Shortly, I will argue that this sanitized version of Jesus — a rebel against Rome who was put to death by the empire for opposing Caesar and Roman rule — is utterly inaccurate. But the effects of this misapprehension are felt till today. In the 20th century, genocide was commonplace. A few of the better-known examples include the Turks’ slaughter of the Armenians during World War I, the German Holocaust of the Jews, the Khmer Rouge and their killing fields in Cambodia in 1975 to ’78, the Hutus hacking to death the Tutsis in Rwanda in April 1994, the ethnic cleansings of Croats by Bosnian Serbs, and the wholesale slaughter of black Christians in the Sudan by white Muslim Janjaweed militias.
How did the world allow so much suffering? Because we practice love without hate, which means we often lack the motivation to stop monsters from committing their crimes against innocents.
Is anyone surprised that China, whose president was recently given only the third state dinner of the Obama presidency and who is currently brutalizing Liu Xiaobo, the reigning winner of the Noble Peace Prize, is also opposing the use of force against Gadhafi in Libya? So why do we accord this government so much respect?
At times it becomes almost comical, as when the Carter administration actually lobbied to have the Khmer Rouge be recognized in the United Nations as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Or when Kofi Anan, at the time head of all U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, forbade Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire of Canada, who commanded the U.N. peacekeeping force in Kigali, from using force to stop the Rwandan genocide. Anan would later be rewarded for his lack of abhorrence for genocide with becoming U.N. Secretary-General.
But can love really exist without hate? Can someone claim to love the 1.5 million children who were killed by Hitler without hating the SS who gassed them and dashed their brains against rocks? Can you love the 800,000 Rwandans who were savagely cut up by machetes in Rwanda without hating the Hutus who just a few hours earlier were their friends and neighbors? Can you claim to love peaceful protesters in Tehran while refusing to hate the tyrant Ahmadinejad who mows them down in the streets? And can you love the victims of Pan Am 103 without hating Gadhafi for raining their bodies down over Lockerbie?
And spare me the argument that once you start hating the terrorist it can spill over into hating innocents as well. Firstly, the same argument can be made against love, that once you embrace it you may end up loving the wrong people — like a husband or wife having an affair. Please. We discerning adults are plenty capable of controlling our emotions and directing them to legitimate targets. We hate Hamas for their honor killings of young girls with boyfriends or their murder of gays in Gaza without letting it spill over into hating the guy who stole our parking space.
Indeed, this is what Jesus himself meant. He never said to love God’s enemies, but your enemies. God’s enemies are the religious police in Saudi Arabia who allow young girls to burn alive in their high schools rather than run from the inferno without a face covering. Your enemy is the guy who got promoted over you at work.
Likewise, by turning the other cheek Jesus never meant that if Osama bin Laden blows up New York we should let him take Los Angeles as well. Rather, he meant that if you hear that someone you consider a friend said something unpleasant about you, try to transcend the provocation. Any other understanding would make a mockery of one of the greatest moral teachers of all time.
Jesus hated the Romans for their cruelty, and Luke (13:1-2) describes the brutality of the Roman proconsul Pilate, which Jesus uses as an illustration for his students. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?’ ”
Indeed, if we don’t begin to hate and fight evil, more victims will suffer and more innocents will die.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the author of 25 books, most recently “Honoring the Child Spirit” and “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” He is about to publish a book on the Jewish Jesus and his fight against Rome. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.