Are we hardwired to hate?
Short answer: yes
Long answer: not really
I’ve been thinking about hate a lot recently, and unless you just woke up from a coma a few minutes ago, so have you. Our oldest enemy, the destroyer of civilizations, hatred is as strong as ever. But why? Why is it so easy to hate? To fear? To judge? The simple Pastor Zack answer is “we’re sinners in need of salvation”, and while that’s true, it’s not the whole truth, and it’s too simplistic to be useful anyway.
We’re pretty proud of modern humanity, but we’re still animals. Fancy animals, but animals nonetheless, and like every other species, we are the result of billions of years of animals who survived in a world that was trying to eat them. So if we are going to talk about hate in 2017, I think we need to take a trip to Tanzania around 200,000 BC. You’ll have to use your imagination since I lost my time machine and I don’t know when it is.
So imagine, if you will, the sun rises on another beautiful African morning as an early tribe of Homo Sapiens begrudgingly gets out of bed. A particularly pesky pack of preteen paleolithic people pester their poor parents to promptly procure proper provisions.
Mondays, am I right?
Our modern stone-age family is no different from our modern information-age families. They just don’t have the benefit of our collective learning. Anatomically, they are identical to us, they have their own language, use stone tools, and are in the process of creating culture. What a time to be alive!
Back to our story. It’s mid-morning and the grownups are taking care of finding food for the day. One group searches for nuts and berries while another group gets their spears and goes for a hunt. Our hunters are Clay, an inquisitive and trusting boy who loves everyone; Ruby, a deep thinker who never makes rash decisions; and Rocky, an emotionally reactive hot head who is always getting into fights.
As they are walking through the dense forests, they hear an unusual sound coming from the bushes in front of them. Clay, ever trusting, walks towards the sound to see what new wonders await him. Ruby stands frozen in her tracks as she tries to remember that one time that she heard a similar sound. Rocky, assuming the worst, is already gone, hiding behind a rock, ready to strike. Rocky and Ruby let out a collective sigh when they see Clay comings out of the bushes holding an adorable baby chimpanzee. Such a cutie.
In our scenario, the three hunters encountered something new and reacted in very different ways. Clay assumed it was good and went to it, Ruby wasn’t sure and analyzed the situation, and Rocky assumed it was malicious and got ready to attack. All three of our paleolithic friends survived the day and none were worse off for their choices. Clay got a new pet, and everyone went home.
Now let’s imagine that it wasn’t a baby chimp in the bushes. Instead, it was a mama gorilla, breast feeding her babies. In this scenario, Clay is dead instantly. Ruby might make it out alive if she is far enough away but her critical thinking is slow and when seconds count, she will probably also get pummeled. Rocky, who has already safely hid behind a rock, is the only one who makes it home that day. He is the only one left to pass on his genes to the next generation. The trusting and thoughtful hunters took their wonder and trust to the grave with them, and their genes did not get passed on.
In both situations, Rocky survives, and so there is an incredibly strong evolutionary pressure to favor humans that distrust anything and everyone that they don’t know. Rocky thinks in binary terms; good and bad, safe and dangerous, friend or foe. He doesn’t see complexity and usually errs on the side of caution. That’s great when you’re living in an isolated tribe of a couple dozen people, but what happens when a hunting party is out in the forest and discovers another village? Rocky’s descendants have been selectively bred by nature to immediately treat this other tribe as hostile and do what they need to do to survive. So, you know, probably not gift baskets?
Civilization as we know it is only about 10,000 years old. 95% of humanity’s existence was extremely isolated with strong evolutionary pressure to not play nice with our neighbors. Then with the rise of cities and nations, we had a unique problem. We had become hardwired to hate people that were not a part of our tribe, but as we got to know them through trade and exploration, we realized that they aren’t so bad after all. Religions had to threaten us with divine punishment because we wanted to hate our neighbor, but knew deep down inside that we probably shouldn’t.
Fighting our circuitry is hard. Your conscious mind only has .0001% of the processing power as your subconscious mind. You are the descendents of Rocky, but you don’t have to follow in his footsteps. The old pressure to hate the unknown doesn’t work anymore. It’s a broken paradigm from an ancient world, and it will be our undoing unless you do the hard work of identifying it and eliminating it in yourself first. In Rocky’s day, the worst outcome of any conflict might be a couple dozen dead people. It’s bad, but humanity will survive. Today, the President can make a 5 minute phone call and instantly vaporize tens of millions of people without even needing to get a second opinion.
Talk about evolutionary pressure…
But we are not slaves to our programming. In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”. Do not settle for the easy neural networks that lead to fear and hatred. Instead, allow yourself to be transformed by the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit who is able to give you a new set of eyes that sees the world as it truly is and lets you see people as God does.
Easy, inspirational, warm, and fuzzy words with incredibly difficult real world applications. Do you know what seeing my neighbor like God sees them really means? It doesn’t mean being color blind and telling people to get along. It means seeing past the riots and memes to the structures that have perpetuated hate and violence in this country since day one. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12, ” For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.
Our battle is against disproportionate convictions for people of color that keep entire communities in poverty. Our battle is against a culture that is taught to fear young black men in hoodies but to respect young white men with torches and assault rifles. Our battle is against a collective white ethos that has had privilege for so long that anything approaching equality feels like persecution. Our battle is against deeply ingrained biological pressure to fear anyone who is not part of our tribe and to see them as a threat to be eliminated instead of a child of God to be cherished.
We are descendents of Rocky, but we are also children of God. We are hardwired to hate, but we have a Holy Spirit like a computer virus that can reprogram our hard drives and hard hearts if we will give her a chance. So speak boldly against systems of oppression, marginalization, and any group of people who would seek to diminish the image of God in other person. Our nation was built on ruthlessness and hate. We can’t change the past, but if we can’t learn from it, then we are doomed. Let’s not be doomed, OK? My sons deserve a better world than this one.