I do enjoy going to films, I am a Marvel and Star Wars fan, after all. But recently I’ve become more uncomfortable sitting through a movie and not just because they are getting longer. I’m having a problem with people being killed with impunity for our entertainment with little or no obvious consequences. In reality, the vehicular carnage and explosive fights would leave hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent bystanders horribly mutilated or dead.
So many of these films are motivated by anger, fear and/or revenge, all of which are addictive. These are emotions we are supposed to control in our real lives but within the made-up world of films and TV shows, we can let loose. We can revel in the destruction of the ‘evil minions’ as the hero fights towards his ultimate goal of bringing down the mastermind. But who were these people who have just been wiped out of existence? Who were their families, their friends, who will mourn their loss? We don’t know and don’t care, these people are just collateral damage and more fuel to feed the protagonist’s anger and hate, more sacrifices to satiate his revenge.
The problem is, what we see in fiction is affecting reality, at least the reality we live in. More people are quick to take offence at the slightest perceived insult. More leaders are using fear to instill anger and hatred towards their opponents or any who oppose them.
When I was in high school, both the junior and the senior football teams won their way to regional finals which every student attended. As the game intensified so did the emotions on both sides. With only minutes left, an opposing player was running the ball towards our end. Our entire side of the stadium rose as one howling “Get him!”, “Stop him!” “Kill him!”. I had an intense flash of hatred for the player, someone I didn’t even know. I sat down dismayed, why did I want a complete stranger to be injured? For what? A ball?
For the first and, I hope, last time I experienced a taste of mob rule, and it was bitter. Even so, it was a freeing sensation, to be able to let go of reason and individual choice, and allow the predominate emotion of the mob to take over and ‘go with the flow’.
But mob rule cements tribalism and tribalism is what drives racism, sexism, political and religious extremism and war. Cheering for a sports team is, at first glance, a relatively innocent activity, but when passions are aroused to the point where the mob takes over, hurling insults, initiating skirmishes and riots all because ‘our’ team lost, then something is very wrong.
Tribalism encourages us to take sides, to identify with one group of people over another. Tribalism isolates us from ‘the Others’ and encourages us to think of them as something less than ourselves. Listening to and participating in the chants and yelled insults at that game, made me realize by dehumanizing the opposing players, I was also dehumanizing myself and refusing to acknowledge the image of God in both myself and them. Thus, I was separating myself from God.
Jesus is love incarnate and ultimate humanity. If I follow Him there can be no place in my life for hatred. If I hate someone, if I incite other people to fear and hatred, then I am not following God but Satan.
Hate is intoxicating. It is a self destructive poison which is killing us, making us less than human. Tearing relationships, marriages, community, country, the world apart, hate poisons the world. When we indulge in thoughts of hatred and revenge, we are sinning as much as though we acted on them. Thoughts will always come but we don’t need to invite them in and entertain them. Instead, we need to listen to Jesus, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:45
Or in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”