Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hate Crime

Yesterday, a Catholic church in New Hampshire was attacked and vandalized.

How would you feel if it was your church?

I think I'd feel about like Danielle does--except that it would probably take me a bit longer than Danielle to start thinking about even the concept of forgiveness, what with my red hair and Irish temper and desire to see the perpetrator strung up by his thumbs over the door of the church vestibule so the whole congregation could gather and shout "Shame, shame!" at him or at them--until such time as I remembered that Christ wouldn't have handled things that way, which again would have taken considerably longer than it took Mrs. Bean to reflect upon.

But it's an impulse I recognize that I have, the impulse to answer hate with hate, not with love.

As human beings, we produced the dictate "An eye for an eye," all by ourselves. Things about turning the other cheek, forgiving our enemies, and loving the ones who persecute us took not merely Divine intervention but Divine incarnation to become a part of our lexicon. The impulse to fight back, to give as good as you're gettin', to seek not justice but vengeance, is a sad part of our fallen nature; the grace to step calmly into the flames of martyrdom, to guide the hand of one's own executioner, to beg for mercy for your own tormentors, is only possible to us by a gift, a gift that was purchased at the most terrible price ever paid.

The person who believes in nothing transcendent, the atheist or secularist or materialist, doesn't really understand this--he doesn't understand how much of the peace and tranquility in which he lives his life is something that grew out of the command to love our enemies. This person often believes that if we could clear away all that old superstitious nonsense we call religion we'd be better off, that we would build societies in which peace and justice would flourish not by Divine favor but as part of the human birthright. And so this type of person tends to think that in order to get rid of the old stupid human impulse to hate, all we have to do is make hate itself against the law.

This is the logic behind hate crimes legislation--the notion that if certain crimes carry automatic penalties because they are deemed to have been motivated by the hatred of the perpetrator towards the victims of the crime, that this will eventually lead to a situation where not only will such crimes no longer be committed, but the hatred behind them will vanish too. Bear in mind that these are the same people who thought that they could create more civilized people by removing religion from the public schools, and think about how well that's working, to see just how wrongheaded a notion this really is.

In the first place, the person who vandalized Sacred Heart Church may or may not hate Catholics; that's yet to be determined. But the damage that has been done, the hurt and pain caused to the community, are just as real regardless of the putative "hate" on the part of the perpetrator.

In the second place, hate crimes laws are often unequally applied. Someone who vandalizes a Catholic Church, even if he admits to hatred for Catholics or the Church, may or may not "qualify" as a hate crime perpetrator; it will all depend on whether or not prosecutors can prove "hostility" to the "victim's religion." (Is the building, or the community, considered the "victim" for the purpose of this law, I wonder?)

In the third place, I'd love to see someone explain how punishing people more severely for their "hate" is going to cause them to have less "hate"? The answer is simple: it isn't. The hatred that a perpetrator of a hate crime feels toward the object of his hostility is only going to be increased by some kind of automatic mandatory punishment. True, hate crimes laws might have a dampening effect on hate crimes, at least temporarily; but thinking you can legislate hatred out of existence is a pretty silly notion, especially coming from the people who insist that we can't legislate morality.

The only weapon that can be used against hatred is love--not the touchy-feely-greeting-card sort, but the sort that is willing to lay down His life not just for His friends, but even for His enemies. It takes the paucity of a small mind and a small heart to damage and destroy a church, or to commit any other act of violent hatred; it takes the magnanimity of Divine Love to call the one responsible by name and lead him to repentance, and a new life of grace.

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