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The role of hatred in America — and the price we’re paying for it

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Religion isn’t the problem, but the perversion of religion is.

Some of the most heartfelt remarks after the Orlando shooting were by Utah’s lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox. In an NPR interview with Kelly McEvers, Cox, a Mormon, publicly stated his regrets for his former attitude toward LGBTQ citizens. He admitted that previously he would not have been as upset about a shooting targeting homosexuals as he would have been about other shootings, such as at a mall or a school. He now understands how wrong that was.

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

Before Cox’s conversation with McEvers, he had attended a vigil for the victims and survivors of the mass shooting in Orlando. At the vigil he spoke, saying, “I recognize fully that I am a balding, youngish, middle-aged straight, white, male, Republican politician with all of the expectations and privileges that come with those labels. I am probably not who you expected to hear from today. I’m here because … 49 Americans were brutally murdered …. I’m here because those 49 people were gay. I’m here because it shouldn’t matter. But I’m here because it does.”

A desperately needed conversation

In those simple words, I’d like to think America might begin a conversation we desperately need. In addition to addressing the way our nation’s bizarre gun culture undermines common sense in dealing with gun violence, we must talk about this unfortunate place we’ve reached where civility and respect in society are dismissed as unnecessary niceties, even as contempt and loathing for those we don’t agree with are embraced as democratic rights.

We must discuss the mighty price America is paying for hatred. 

Interestingly, the inability to assign the Orlando shooter’s motives to a specific avowed terrorist group lends clarity to America’s hatred problem. The more we learn, the more his motives seem centered on homophobia rather than anti-government plotting. He may have been a terrorist wannabe, but he was at the gay club because he thought homosexuals should be killed. The point Cox was making at the vigil and in his interview with McEvers was that too many Americans hear that the shootings were at a gay club and — on some level or another — think to themselves that it’s unfortunate but not surprising given the lifestyle.

The same thoughts occur when a Planned Parenthood clinic or an abortion clinic is targeted, as happened in Colorado Springs last fall. There the shooter called himself a “warrior for babies” and rambled about “no more baby parts,” clearly echoing hatefulness fomented by a doctored video that was completely debunked but is still being used to demonize Planned Parenthood. (Investigations by multiple states and congressional committees found no wrongdoing. In fact, the only criminal indictment was of the man who made the videos.)

Sadly, facts don’t matter when hatred predetermines outcomes. More sadly still, religious leaders who use words such as “murder” and “killing” when the differences they have are differences of religious philosophy are not furthering their faith.

Religion’s role

Unfortunately, that brings us to the role of religion in engendering hatred. Cox spoke to that role with McEvers. McEvers asked, “Mormon leaders recently clarified that same-sex marriage is a ‘grievous sin’ and that Mormons in same-sex marriages are considered apostates. As a prominent Mormon, how do you feel about that?”

Cox answered, “[W]hether you see that as a sin or not I think is unimportant for this reason, and that is, I don’t like to rank sins.” Cox then brought up the biblical commandment “to love everyone as Jesus taught us.” Finally, Cox said that “if we’re just human and just honest … even if people disagree with us, they won’t hate us.”

What Cox understands is something Islamic leaders in America also have been trying to say. Religion isn’t the problem, but the perversion of religion is. The tenets of Islam do not encourage hate or terrorism any more than do the words of Jesus; in fact, using religious beliefs to justify hatred says little about religion. Then again, it says a whole lot about us. 

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/24/2016 - 07:42 pm.

    Original Sin + It Can’t Happen to Me

    makes a nasty combination in these circumstances.

    When horrible, violent tragedies strike it’s a very common human defense mechanism to assuage our fears for ourselves, and our families,…

    by identifying reasons why such things happen to people like “them,”…

    but can’t possibly happen to people like “us,” because we’re not _____________ (fill in the blank).

    The way many of us, especially “conservatives” fill in that blank is born out of the idea of “original sin,”…

    that, by being born, we’re infected with original sin which means “god” vehemently detests us for simply being the people “god” created us to be.

    Although, for most “conservative Christians,” Jesus’ death and resurrection are supposed to cancel out original sin and blind God to our rampant infection with it,…

    it’s human nature to seek to set up a hierarchy of who’s clearly saved, who’s not so clearly saved, and who’s headed straight to hell,…

    that “straight to hell” group being identified for them by clergy who tend to point to groups whom they assume not to be present in their congregations.

    Thus can those clergy appear to be strong against sin, especially “sins of the flesh” (while teaching total ignorance of what the Apostle Paul originally meant by that phrase)…

    while not stepping on the toes of any of their church members.

    If, of course, they preached against the things Jesus, himself, preached against, their congregations would be enraged, and, likely, fire that pastor,…

    because far too many of them would find THEMSELVES convicted.

    When his disciples tried, within Jesus’ hearing, to use a similar “this can’t happen to us because,” psychological dodge, Jesus was decidedly NOT amused, as indicated by this passage:

    At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you [turn your attention back to God], you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you [turn your attention back to God], you will all perish just as they did.” [Luke 13:1-5 (NRSV)]

    The fact is, of course, that we will all die in this life,…

    and maintaining the pretense and illusion that we won’t die in random or violent ways if we’re just better than other people is complete folly,…

    but, even worse, living buried in such a fallacious and illusory perspective makes it nearly impossible for us to comprehend the necessity of taking the actions needed,…

    to make the world around us a safer place for everyone,…

    even those most UNlike us.

  2. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/24/2016 - 10:41 pm.


    This article is not about hate. The author is using a subtext of hate to bring up her personal viewpoints.

    Her examples are limited to left-leaning issues and how ‘hateful’ those right-wingers can be. She goes on to call our gun culture bizarre. Bizarre? So, we should assume the author possesses the end-all correct point of view and everyone else is bizarre?

    The author is not closing the divide, but widening it by using derisive language to describe those who do not believe what she believes.

    Agreeing with those you agree with is easy. Try showing respect to those you disagree with.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 06/25/2016 - 08:58 am.

      You can STOP being a gun rights advocate

      Its a choice. (Same goes for religion but we’ll save that for another day) Folks like the author do disagree with the position of gun rights advocates, they want them to change. That is perfectly reasonable, and doesn’t require anyone to respect anything. The hate the author speaks of is toward immutable characteristics, things that cannot change.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 06/26/2016 - 07:07 pm.


        Never owned a gun. Never advocated for nor condemned gun ownership. But I try very hard to respect others’ beliefs and viewpoints in word and thought.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/25/2016 - 11:26 am.

    Mr. Wallin, I don’t think you’re reading this article fairly at all. There is no hate in it. There is understanding, compassion, a will to peace and civility in our mutual dealings. Not vicious labels or name-calling.

    It is a habit of the political and religious conservative wing of our political realm to indulge in uncivil language that uses the most extreme violent words and phrases that can be found, and flings them around willy-nilly. Usually, they are also anonymous, except when it’s Donald Trump saying them, or Bill O’Reilly and whats-his-name Beck.

    This article is on the spot.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/25/2016 - 05:26 pm.

    Don’t expect any changes

    There won’t be any changes until the campaign finance laws are changed. Campaign finance laws are why the NRA has a strangle hold on politicians. If politicians don’t spew the NRA party line they will lose their campaign sugar daddy that helps fund their campaigns. The NRA strangle hold won’t even let the politicians try anything to stop gun violence. It is all working well for the NRA and gun manufacturers. Fear drives membership and gun sales. Not necessarily rational fear, mostly marketing driven fear. Along with gun ownership goes responsibility. Nearly anyone can own a gun. Not everyone can act responsibly with a gun. All you have to do is watch the news each night for validation that gun ownership and responsibility are mutually exclusive of each other. Voting out politicians has to start now if they refuse to try any common sense way to minimize gun violence. Term limits for politicians are definitely needed. Career politicians and their empires are hurting out country. Vote wisely voters, it is going to be a long battle.

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