Is intolerance of intolerance intolerant? Is hating hate hateful?
I’ve seen the signs around in a few people’s yards. “Hate Has No Home Here,” they say, followed by translations of the phrase in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and Urdu. I didn’t think much of them, other than that the sentiment was nice. But when a colleague of mine got hate mail from a neighbor for displaying one in her front yard, I had to look further into it.
Turns out, the phrase was the brainchild of …children… a third grader and kindergartner at Peterson Elementary, which services the extremely diverse Chicago neighborhood of North Park, IL. The sign project was the result of the cooperation of a North Park neighborhood organization. The stated purpose of the sign is as a “public declaration that hate speech and hateful actions against others will not be tolerated by the person or organization displaying the sign.” What’s to hate, right?
Love is Antichrist?
Well, according to one Karen, plenty. Karen Pansler Lam, author of a Children’s Illustrated Bible, thinks the signs are a hate crime—"against American Christians.” This confused me at first. If Karen thinks that rejecting hate is anti-Christian, this can only be because she thinks it is a Christian’s job to hate—and in this case specifically, to hate “foreigners,” especially those who are not Christian, or those whose native language is not English. But, indeed, that she thinks this is exactly what Karen’s tirade makes clear. She hates every religion that isn’t Christianity, every person that isn’t Christian, and every society that isn’t “American.” Karen, of course, would verbally deny this. “I don’t hate them,” she would likely say, "I just ..." But what other word but “hate” would you use? She says she sees them as “enemies” of the state and of Christianity. Toleration of them is an endorsement of “polytheism” and “multiculturalism,” both of which she sees as “anti-Christian” and “antichrist.”
Non-hate (i.e., love) is antichrist? To anyone familiar with the Bible, this probably seems absurd. Recall Jesus’s saying that there was no command greater than “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, Jesus preached tolerance, especially of foreigners and those who were outcast by the majority of society. Think of the good Samaritan (the Samaritans were outcast “foreigners”), and his line about “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” And the Old Testament is filled with commands and stories to welcome “strangers,” “foreigners,” and “sojourners.” So how in the world could toleration or “not hating” be “anti-Christian” and “antichrist.”
Well, Karen has an answer to this.
When the Israelites went out of Egypt a large, mixed multitude of foreigners accompanied them. Among the Israelites there were at all times those who were not Hebrew. They were tolerated and granted some privileges. But they had to comply with certain laws: foreigners shall not blaspheme the Name of the Lord (Lev. 24:16), foreigners shall not indulge in idolatrous worship (Lev. 20:2), and other laws. In consideration for obeying these laws, Gentiles were protected and tolerated. Simply put, the Hebrews held dominion over strangers. They were not allowed to come into the land and trample on or overthrow the Hebrew culture.
This makes it clear she is not opposed to toleration of foreigners per se—she is not opposed to all forms of toleration. We can let them exist in our society; we don’t have to exile them or kill them (how kind). If they are to live among us, however, they must assimilate to “our” culture, our way of life, and especially our religion. Perhaps they don’t have to convert to our religion, but they certainly can’t practice theirs. As biblical scholar Craig Evans puts it, the Israelites are to “hate the foreigner (lest they become ensnared in the religions of the foreigners).” And Karen would undoubtedly argue that Jesus, while he clearly felt sorry for foreigners, would not tolerate sin—and practicing another religion is a sin.
So to be a Christian, for Karen, is to not only think that the doctrines of Christianity are true and that doctrines of other religions are false—or to love your neighbor, or turn the other cheek—but to see other religions as affronts to God himself, and thus to hate them and anyone who belongs to them. Indeed, it must be the goal of Christians to establish Christian societies, and in doing so dominate all non-Christians who exist inside them. And Christianity's goal should to be establish a theocracy. She makes this abundantly clear when she says:
God gave our forefathers this land to possess as a Christian nation, and they established a government based on Biblical principles. But we have turned our backs on God. In the name of “diversity” we have become a polytheistic nation. It is not Biblical for our land to be devoured by strangers who invade America to overthrow our Christian heritage and Christian culture. America was given to our Christian forefathers. It is our rightful inheritance. God gave the Christian Pilgrims and Puritans dominion over America. Christians have rightful ownership of America. However, we allow strangers to come to America and wrest our land away from us. Strangers are robbing us of our Christian culture and Christian heritage. Christians are losing dominion over America, and we allow strangers to rob our children of their inheritance.
Now, the historical and legal ignorance of this statement knows almost no bounds. As I explained in the second chapter of my book The Myths that Stole Christmas, the founding fathers were not all Christians (Jefferson and Franklin were deists, for example), and the first amendment clearly states that no law can “respect an establishment of religion.” This not only means that Congress cannot establish an official state religion, but that no law can respect any religious establishment (i.e., it cannot “respect” or favor any one church or religion over another). “Establishment” in the first amendment is a noun, not a verb. To boot, the Constitution clearly states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust,” and never mentions God (much less Christianity) once. Indeed, the founding fathers clearly understood the danger of mixing religion with government; fights over which religion was going to control the English government was what led to the bloody English civil war the century before. This was something they were expressly trying to avoid. As John Adams himself put it in the Treaty of Tripoli, "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
But that’s not to say that Karen’s ideology was not shared by early settlers in America, or that it has not been embraced by many Americans since. It is rooted in the now rejected colonialist notion that came to be known as “manifest destiny,” the idea that God gave the Americas to Christians to possess and dominate. Manifest destiny was the excuse to do to the native Americans exactly what Karen (falsely) claims “foreigners” are doing to American society today. (Karens usually think Muslim pose the biggest threat and that the percentage of Muslims in the US is 17%; it’s actually less than 1%). Indeed, her words could have just as easily come out of the mouth of a native American a few hundred years ago, in the wake of European colonization.
We should not let our land to be devoured by strangers who invade America to overthrow its native heritage and native culture. America was given to our forefathers. It is our rightful inheritance. We have dominion over America. We have rightful ownership of America. Why would we allow strangers to come to America and wrest our land away from us? Strangers are robbing us of our native culture and heritage! We natives are losing our dominion over America. Why should we allow strangers to rob our children of their inheritance?
The fact that this irony is completely lost on Karen is astounding. Manifest destiny was the idea that European colonialists used to justify the slaughter of Native Americans, and to drive them off their land—to infect them with smallpox, and relegate them to small reservations, only to violate treaties they had signed and take their land again. It justified the notion that the Native American culture and its people were inferior, and God intended us to dominate them.
Indeed, the same kind of sentiments were used to justify slavery and the Civil War. As the state of Texas put it, when it seceded from the union:
…our own views should be distinctly proclaimed. We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states. [Bold emphasis added.]
One can hold such views about Native Americans and “the African race” only if one hates them. Karen might argue that one can think a society or race is inferior without hating the members of it, but consider how the KKK, who regards the white race as superior, thinks about other races. They don’t merely think of themselves as superior; they hate Jews, they hate blacks, etc. They want them to be either subservient or dead. And Karen, by what she says, clearly indicates that she hates foreigners and people who belong to other religions. One cannot think others are “enemies” to be “dominated” without despising them.
And while I would like to say that Karen’s views aren’t Christian—historically speaking they are. Christians have held similar views throughout history, and they have been used to justify not only slavery and the slaughter of native Americans, but the crusades, the inquisition, the Holocaust—the list goes on and on. (Notice how Karen’s theme of cultural hegemony runs through these examples.) I could, of course, try to argue that Karen’s views are not biblical, but as any biblical scholar knows, the Bible is so vague and contradictory that you can make it say just about anything you want it to say, or justify about anything you like. That’s one of the dangers of having a holy book; people can make it say what they want it to say, and then think (or make others think) they have a divine mandate to do what they want to do. There are plenty of pro-slavery passages in the Bible, for example. The Bible was also used to justify anti-Semitism for centuries. (Notice that one of the languages on the sign Karen objects to his Hebrew.) And Jesus’s great commission could easily be seen as a call to make the entire world Christian, and thus endorsing manifest destiny.
Is Hating Hate a Hate Crime?
None of what I have said entails that all Christians endorse this view today. After all, many Christians today are not white or American. And there are those that believe Christianity is the one true religion, but acknowledge that this cannot be proven and thus that they have no right to impose their religion on others. There are those who think it can be proven, and that they should evangelize, but see the need to keep church and state separate. There are those that acknowledge the equality of all races and the dignity of every human person. There are those who know basic American and world history. There are those that recognize the role that manifest destiny played in justifying murder and thus avoid endorsing it. There are even those who view Christianity as a value system and a way of life, rather than a set of doctrines to be imposed on people. So it is far too simplistic to say, as a blanket statement as Karen does, that “Hate Has No Home Here” and its anti-hate message, is anti-Christian. Many Christians would endorse it.
But it is also too simplistic to say that the call to tolerate and not hate people of other societies, races, and religions is not anti-Christian. In a way it is; it is contrary to the worst, most deplorable interpretation of Christianity, which is not new and indeed has done the most damage to the world throughout the centuries (way more damage, in fact, than the interpretations of other religions which Karen is so afraid of, like ISIS). It is contrary to the outdated and despicable historically Christian notion that the white race is superior, and that everyone should be forced to be Christian. And we ignore the fact that this is an all too common view among American Christians, still today, at our own peril.
Indeed, even though the stated purpose of the original “Hate Has No Home Here” group, that started in that Chicago neighborhood, is a-political, it did begin in the fall of 2016—in the midst of the presidential campaign, when Trump was calling Mexicans rapists, pushing for immigration bans on Muslim countries, and still saying Mexico would pay for his border wall. In such a context, the slogan could easily be viewed as a counter to his racism—and the implicit (and often explicit) racism of his supporters—both by those who posted the sign, and those who objected to it. “In this home we don’t hate,” the sign suggests, perhaps implying that “but in that home over there, which is full of Trump supporters, they do.” Indeed, Karen ends her tirade with “Make America Christian Again,” clearly implying that she not only supports Trump, but takes that to be what Trump’s MAGA slogan really means. So, in her mind, any opposition to Trump (including opposition to this racism) is anti-Christian (a view that is not uncommon among his supporters).
I write this, however, not in an attempt to convince the Karens of the world that they are wrong. They are beyond all hope. I cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into. Karen belongs to what essentially amounts to a cult, that exists inside the Christian religion, which (despite the fact that it holds dominant power in all sectors of American society) sees Christians as a persecuted minority—and I can’t deprogram people out of a cult with a blog post. When someone ties their identity to an ideology, there is no length they will not go to—no ridiculous logical knots they won’t tie themselves into—to continue to justify beliefs they cannot bring themselves to reject. Neither evidence nor argument make any difference to them.
Instead, I write this as a wake-up call to those who reject Karen’s view. Karen’s view, while on the fringe ideologically, is not on the fringe sociologically. What I mean by that is that, even though it is on the far right “fringe” of the political spectrum—if you laid out views, from left to right, according to how radical they are, Karen’s view would be hanging off the right edge—is not an uncommon view. It is not something that exists, in isolation, on the edges of Christian or political culture. This is a prominent view, popular among Christians and republicans alike. Thinking that if a view is ideological fringe it must be unpopular is something I call “the fringe fallacy.” And we commit it at our own peril. People committed it in 2016, when they thought there was no way Donald Trump, who was considered a (politically) fringe candidate, could win the GOP nomination or general election.
Hating hate and the Paradox of Tolerance
Now, in my words, you might detect a bit of loathing—indeed, hatred—for the Karens of the world. Consequently, you might think that this article is contrary to the “Hate Has No Home Here” message. But this brings us to the title of this piece, and the paradox of tolerance.
The paradox of tolerance, first identified by Karl Popper, suggests that tolerance leads to intolerance—or, more specifically, that complete and pure tolerance of everything would lead to the elimination of tolerance for anything. How so? If every view is tolerated, then viewpoints that are intolerant must be tolerated. But intolerant viewpoints, left unchecked, will wipe out everything besides themselves—leaving us with only intolerance in the end. So, to champion tolerance, one must be intolerant to a degree—one must not tolerate intolerant views. Indeed, Popper argued, such views must be made illegal (like how Germany effectively made Nazism illegal after WWII).*
A similar paradox arises, not about tolerance and intolerance, but about love and hatred. If you truly love everything, then you must also love hate. But if hate is loved, and thus left unchecked, it will wipe our everything but itself, and all we will be left with is hate. So, to champion love, one must hate to a degree—one must hate hatefulness. And that, in a way, is what the “Hate Has No Home Here” signs declare; “In this house, we hate hate.”
Now perhaps we can “hate the sin but love the sinner,” or “hate the hate without hating the hater.” Maybe. After all (some varieties of) Christianity call us to love everyone. Perhaps we can love the hater, but hate their hate and not leave it unchecked. But, on the other hand, is it really possible to separate people from their actions in this way—especially their actions towards others? As author Mayur Ramgir put it, “Your actions define your character, your words define your wisdom, but your treatment of others defines [the] real you.” Can I really love Hitler, but just hate his actions? Didn’t his actions reveal him to be a deplorable human being deserving of hatred? Indeed, one might even argue that a person is morally deficient if they don’t hate Hitler. So is one morally deficient if they do not hate people, like Karen, who take calls for love and tolerance as personal affronts to them and their religion? I’m not really sure. But if one vocally stands against an “anti-hate” message, one should not be surprised if one finds oneself hated.
Copyright David Kyle Johnson, 2020
*Note: While looking for images to include with this article, I found a modified one of the cartoon above, posted by Jordan Peterson, which suggests that if you think that the paradox entails that Nazi’s should not be tolerated, then it also entails that Islam should not be tolerated (which, he assumes, most liberals would oppose.) The modified comic replaces Hitler with an Imam, and all the Swastikas with a star and crescent. The mistake, of course, is that Islam is not monolithic; Nazism is. Yes, there are sects and ideas within Islam that are wholly intolerant, and on Popper’s view, those sects and views should not be tolerated anymore than Nazism. But since there are also Muslims and sects within Islam that wholly reject those ideas, Popper’s argument cannot be used suggest that the practice of Islam should be made illegal. There is no such nuance in Nazism. There are no good Nazi’s. What it is to be a Nazi, by definition, is to be intolerant, and thus it should be rejected, as a whole, on face. Notice how ridiculous the comparison would be if, instead of a star and crescent, we replaced the swastikas with crosses, and replaced Hitler with pastor Joel McDurmon calling for the slaughter of gay people. Yes, Popper would say such views should not be tolerated; but since there are many Christians who oppose those views, Popper would not say we should ban the practice of Christianity as a religion.