I believe that we may be experiencing one of the most hateful times in our human history. Seems like a bold statement, right? The huns were pretty mean, and (again honoring Godwin) Hitler was pretty evil too. The Visigoths and the Romans probably hated each other more than the Jets and the Sharks ever could. So my thesis is pretty easy to reject, except that I’m not talking about people being more hateful than ever, I’m talking about people feeling like they are hated more than ever.
Everybody, with varying degrees of justification, seems to feel like they are targeted in some way. Christians feel persecuted because secularism is on the rise, and Americans are rejecting the proselytization of Christianity in daily life. The War on Christmas is only real if you completely ignore how pervasive Christmas is in American culture, and any “assault on religious freedom” that includes letting same-sex marriages happen is only an assault on religious freedom if you think that religious freedom includes forcing your religion on somebody else. Nevertheless, Christians in many walks of life feel like they are hated, to the point that some have started calling the gay pride rainbow flag a hate symbol.
On the other side of the religious coin, atheists feel hated. Poll after poll shows that atheists are at the bottom of the barrel for many Americans. Although atheists are no longer the least electable group in American politics (socialists took that long-held prize), being even close to the bottom is a slap in the face. About half of Americans said that they would be unhappy if a family member were to marry someone who doesn’t believe in God. For comparison sake, only 11% said they would be unhappy about a family member marrying somebody from another race, and only 7% said they would be unhappy about a family member marrying a foreigner. Another study asked participants (religious and non-religious) to imagine that a driver damaged a parked car and left the scene, then found a wallet and took the money. The participants were asked if the person was more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher. Guess which the majority picked. If you guessed atheist teacher, you win! Give an atheist a whiff of this, and that atheist is likely to feel hated and not trusted.
There are plenty of other examples, and I bet all the money in my pockets right now, against all the money in your pockets right now, that you know somebody, or that you belong to a group that you feel is hated by somebody. Liberals think conservatives hate them, and conservatives think liberals hate them. Maybe some of it is true, but I’m convinced that the feeling hated sentiment is felt by more than is the hating sentiment. I bet that a liberal believes that conservatives hate liberals more than liberals hate conservatives. I bet the converse is true also.
Why is this so? Why do we spend so much time thinking about how hated we are, and even inventing or amplifying hatred where it probably doesn’t exist or exists in very small amounts? My answer is this, and I don’t know if it’s purposeful or not, perpetuated by public figures knowingly or not: I think it’s the lure of persecution. I wrote about this more here, but there seems to be a persecution envy in our culture today. Maybe it’s because we see that persecuted groups are forgiven for some things more than other groups. Maybe it’s because we see forms of what I called “reimbursement” being earned by persecuted groups, and we want some of that reimbursement…maybe not some of the real hardship that earned the reimbursement, but perhaps being hated just a little makes us more sympathetic, and less likely to be ignored when we ask for stuff.
Maybe we’d be better off if we stopped focusing on who we think hates us, or at least try to objectively determine if we really are hated first. I’m not, by the way, saying that some groups aren’t hated by many Americans. I’m saying that we should probably, at the very least, try to not invent it where it doesn’t exist, and do what we can to shake it off when we can. For each person who you think hates you, I bet you can find at least a few who love you…unless you’re Hitler. Then it might be harder, but if you were Hitler, you’d be dead, so it probably doesn’t matter as much.