Perhaps no recent event has highlighted the contemporary rise of a radical “us vs. them” mentality quite like the 2016 US presidential election. This polarizing animosity extended beyond the basic “right vs. left” dichotomy, pitting group against group against group. Citizens vs. immigrants. Whites vs. blacks. Christians vs. secular culture. Women vs. men. Straights vs. the LGBT community. Everyone was required to choose a side, to the absolute and sometimes vengeful exclusion of the other. Those who refused to pick became enemies to all.
The thing about such an “us vs. them” mentality is that it provides ready-made and impersonal scapegoats for many of the world’s ills. A terrorist bombs a train station, we can blame radical Islam. A black man loses his life to a hate crime, we can blame white supremacists. We can try (and fail) to take action against nebulous collectives, in order to avoid facing the terrible truth that it is people, not groups, who do evil things.
But sometimes something happens that defies categorization. Sometimes one man, acting alone and without apparent motive, does something so unspeakably horrible that we are forced to examine evil stripped of every false allegiance, standing naked before our very eyes.
The man who opened fire on the Strip in Las Vegas on the night of October 1 was a white man shooting at a crowd filled with many white people. We cannot blame racism. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but the FBI says there is no evidence of that, so we cannot blame Islam. The shooter did not, like the gunman in Orlando last summer, attack the LGBT community, so we cannot blame homophobia or transphobia. He was just a human being, killing other human beings. There was no reason, no allegiance to any collective, and that is frightening. It forces us to acknowledge that sometimes people do evil things, not motivated by any group or ideology. And if we allow ourselves to grapple with that reality, we eventually must acknowledge that evil is always carried out by people, not by groups, and that if we are to combat evil, we must face it in people. In others, and in ourselves.
Without the facade of the collective, however, hatred ceases to be an option, for without the group as a scapegoat, the only thing left to hate is the people themselves. Thus, this radical understanding of evil as a result of free, human action calls for a more radical kind of love. If we do not want to hate people, and if we do not want to be indifferent, all that is left to us is love. We must love each and every person, regardless of the evil they have done or might do.
Whatever we perceive or know to be wrong or hurtful in the other we must acknowledge, then meet with love. Citizens must love immigrants, even illegal ones. Christians must love non-Christians, even the anti-Christian ones. Women must love men, even the sexist ones. People must love people, even the violent, hateful ones. For we are all God’s children, and that is the only group to which every single one of us belongs. It is that group alone which gives us our dignity, that group alone by which we ought to identify ourselves. For when we love each other in that way, in God, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
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But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)