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Does Religion Fuel Hate?

Several weeks ago, I saw a bumper sticker that announced, “I 💗hate.”

Was this a joke? Does someone think this is funny? Or, worse, does someone want to announce to all who see it that he or she loves hate?

You never know with bumper stickers. There’s always a good chance that what you see is not what you think it means. But if it means what I think it means, it’s sick.

I recently read an article in the New York Times with the headline, “Antisemitic and Anti-Muslim Hate Speech Surges across the Internet.” And that’s so disappointing and worrisome.

Is Hate Anything New?

I should say upfront that it’s hard to tell whether the Internet – I’m assuming the headline is referring to social media – itself is part of the problem by providing a forum that didn’t previously exist. If so, that could mean that the hate that is demonstrated on social media isn’t anything new, that people may have been just as hateful 10 or 20 years ago as they are now but didn’t have a “safe” way to express it publicly.

I prefer not to blame the media, however. Like the telephone and public meetings, the forums themselves are simply means of communication and self-expression. Unlike with guns, which are made to kill and maim, it’s people who are the problem.

The newspaper reported that for the month after Oct. 7, the day Hamas attacked Israel, many anti-Semitic posts, “often alongside language that called for violence against Jews,” appeared on X – formerly Twitter. Similarly, another hateful hashtag, this time calling for death to Muslims, spiked on X. It was shared tens of thousands of times.

“The increases have been at far greater levels than what academics and researchers who monitor social media say they have seen before,” continues the article, “with millions of often explicitly violent posts on X, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.”

People Influenced by Social Media?

Are people influenced by these sites, and do they result in actual violence? It’s hard to say, but it seems that people who are arrested for hate crimes often are found to have been exposed to online hate.

Many people use the Israeli-Hamas conflict as “another example” of religion fueling hate. But is that what’s really going on? Do you believe Hamas and the Israeli military are motivated by religion? Have you read or heard about clerics on one side promoting the killing of people on the other? I haven’t, and I follow the news pretty closely.

It has been the same story in Northern Ireland. That conflict, as well, is not principally about religion, in my opinion. Clergy there, for the most part, have urged moderation and reconciliation. Like the Middle East, it’s a matter of people who have been historically discriminated against lashing out against their oppressors. It’s about power, not faith.

But given the results of the recent studies reported by New York Times, it’s a good time for people searching for God in the Judeo-Christian tradition to remind ourselves how important it is to embrace and promote love and reject hate.

In this respect, there is no room for compromise. Consider this from the web site, “Simple to Remember.com, Judaism Online:”

“Many people – Jew and Christian alike – are surprised to discover that the principle,

Found in the Old Testament

‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is found in the ‘Old’ Testament, and even in Leviticus, probably the most maligned (and misunderstood) book in what we Jews call the Torah.

“The Christian Gospels also say that loving thy neighbor is one of the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29-31). However, long before Christianity, Jewish tradition taught: ‘Love thy neighbor is one of the great principles in the Torah’ (Sifra 2:12). The famous Jewish sage Hillel, who flourished well before Christianity, said: ‘Don’t do unto others what you would not want do to you – that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary’ (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a).”

The problem, as I see it, is the dichotomy between what is taught and what is practiced. It’s obvious that we humans are good at making rules and laying out principles, but not very good at following them.

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