There is something in people that can only be described as a need to hate. René Girard explicated this need in his scapegoat theory: People find unity in a shared hatred for an appointed scapegoat on whom they can lay their sins (and their blame) for all that is deemed wrong or evil within the group/ tribe/ family/ nation/ team/ class/ staff/ faculty/ political party/ or any collective identity. This unity allows them to escape their fear of being alone by being a part of the plural “we” and not the dreaded singular “I”. To refuse to share the hatred makes one an outcast; such a refusal casts doubt on the justification of the hatred, which is necessary to the sense of “belonging” that makes each member feel accepted and secure in their personal anonymity. Of course, this is what happened at our Lord’s Crucifixion, and it is what happened in the subsequent centuries of Christian persecution of the Jews. It allows people to believe that their hatred makes them righteous. It is the root of wars and rumors of wars between countries and within them. Collective hate is the most powerful force in the secular world.

It’s popular to point out the unity of Americans following the attacks of September 11, and to lament the rapid wane of that unity: Why can’t we be as united as we were then? Because unity in hatred evaporates quickly. It’s like alcohol or drugs in that way: it’s an artificial high and disappears swiftly when unwanted sobriety creeps back into individual consciousness. For that reason, someone must keep fanning the flames of hatred. When one hate-object is used up, another must be found. People must be told repeatedly that they are victims of some other group. They must cling to that victim status if they are to keep the fires of hatred going. They will even victimize themselves to keep that status, which they believe makes their hatred righteous. To lose that victimhood might make them lose their hatred and the righteousness it endows. Worse, it would make them personally responsible for what they think and say, what they do and are. To stop hating could even result in making them outcasts from the tribe, a fate worse than death since primeval times, as Girard explains, not at all unlike animals who live in packs, herds, flocks, etc., like lions and meerkats, elephants and wolves. Isolation from the pack is certain death. It is often said that man is a “social” animal; it might be more accurate to say that he is a pack animal. (Apologies to any feminist readers of pronouns)

This need to hate is not confined to politics. It’s anywhere anyone seeks retribution for an offense, whether the offense is real or merely perceived. It’s anywhere any group is envious of another. It’s anywhere one is angry and unable to justify his anger. It’s in the Church, not just locally, but the universal Church, among those who love tradition and among those who fear its power. Neither party has anything to do with the Gospel. In fact, it contradicts the Gospel.

What made the Gospel so revolutionary? Christ said that God loves us. Not as members of any tribe or group. But each of us. As persons. No one ever told us that before. More—he said that God forgives us—each of us. Not as a collective, but as persons. Christ never told us to join anything; on the contrary, he told us to detach ourselves. To walk humbly, not en masse but personally, with our God. To receive the father’s love. It is that love which, once received, makes it possible for us to love other persons, even those who hate us.