The Revd Antonio García Fuerte
It is very likely there is intelligent life outside our planet and within our galaxy, according to leading scientists. You might be familiar with the “Drake equation”. It is a formula to calculate how many intelligent civilisations might exist within our own galaxy. It takes into account seven variables necessary for intelligent life to exist, ranging from astrophysics to evolutionary biology. Several scientists have had a go at trying to replace the variables with numbers, and come up with a possible solution. The resulting figures have been very diverse. Interestingly, there is more or less agreement with 6 of the variables, and wide disagreement with one of them, the one represented by letter “L”, which stands for ‘the length [of time] for which intelligent civilisations last for.’ And the key disagreement to determine this value, much to my surprise, is not a scientific one, but moral: who long does an intelligent life last for before it becomes so great that it self destructs?
Last Sunday we were shocked with the news of the killing of 49 people in a gay bar in Orlando, in a hate crime. Thursday afternoon, we heard the news of another hate crime, that of Jo Cox MP, this one much nearer to our home. Friday was the first year anniversary of the Charleston shooting where 9 people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in another hate crime. Three very different crimes, but one single motivation: hatred.
Now, it really looks like I am taking you to a place where I am going to claim the doom of civilisation, the self-destruction of humanity… but I am going in the opposite direction. Bear with me as I descend a little bit more into the issue.
Lets go back to search for the roots of hatred. What is hatred? What causes people to hate others? The Cambridge Dictionary defines “hate” as “to dislike something or someone very much.” This definition looks good to me when applied to things, but not so much when applied to people. Let me tell you why: most of us, every day at work, or at school or wherever, come across a variety of people, and we interact with them. Some we will like more, some less. Some we might even find we like very little. Yet that doesn’t prevent us from establishing a professional or polite relationship at least.
Human relationships are always complex. Every time we interact with others we create stereotypes in our heads. Stereotypes are not necessary bad, they may help us make sense of the world and of the other. But where stereotypes are associated with anxiety or fear, the situation is likely to be quite different, and usually it translates in hostility or hatred towards others. Eventually, if not dealt with, it turns into growing hatred and becomes projected into a whole group or collective. It is important to be aware of these dynamics because we can’t escape stereotypes, but we can scape hatred.
The different response that the Church gave to the hate crimes this past week, shows how easy it is to fall into this trap of hatred. No form of hatred is Christian ever. Let me repeat that again: no form of hatred is Christian ever. If you say: ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’, I will tell you again: no form of hatred is Christian, ever.
The Gospel today talks precisely about this, stereotypes and hatred. Hatred is better defined as a lack-of-love or lack-of-God. For us Christians, love is a given, not a goal. And love is a given because we are “created at the image of God” (cf. Gen 1:27), because we all resemble that love which is God’s own being, in us. And nobody can take that away from us.
In the demoniac man in the Gospel today (Luke 6:26-39), that image of God has been made such a blur, that the man does not seem to be recognisable as a human being any more. His soul is possessed not by one but by 5000 demons, a legion of them. And his body manifests this separation from God: naked (meaning the loss of dignity), living among the dead (unable to partake with the living, unable to establish any human relationship, all completely broken down).
But Jesus has mercy on him. Why? Because Jesus is able to see the last traces of the image of God in that man. What caused him to get to that state doesn’t matter to Jesus at all. However far that man is from God, nothing can erase that image of God, of love, in him, however faint, and Jesus can recognise it and relate to it. And us Christians are expected like Jesus, to discover this image of God even in the most unexpected and remote places, and speak up for it.
And this is precisely the key, because it means that we, us christians, have got tools to transform the roots of all forms of hatred. And not only that, we are called to work actively in searching and transforming all forms of hatred, this is, to bring love and forgiveness where there is not.
Jesus frees the body/soul of the tormented man who makes space in his body/soul for God. Wrapped around this inseparable soul/body of ours is our true identity. Paul teaches to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our body/soul created to the image of God means that God is its natural inhabitant and not hatred or lack-of-God - sin can never ruin completely the image of God imprinted in us. Our soul/body clings to God and God clings to out soul/body.
If we believe the Apostle that we carry, then, Christ in our soul/body, there are huge consequences to it. First, that all carry Christ: absolute equality of all. No gentile, no jew. No free, no slave. No male, no female: absolute equality of all in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28). Second, that all can be a sign (blessing) of God to others (and we must strive to be a sign of the blessing to God to everybody, even those we like least). You are a blessing to the world. Blessing is the opposite of hatred. When was the last time we gave someone a blessing? We became a blessing to someone around us? Can we think of anybody who needs our blessing? But also, count your blessings! Who has been a blessing to us? Who has given us God’s blessing? Blessing is the opposite of hatred. The blessing at the end of the Eucharist is to "go into the world to love and serve the Lord", this is, to bless others. And maybe, who knows, one day to take that blessing even outside our planet and onto other intelligent life in the galaxy…