During the late 1970s, while I was in college, I met a young man — I’ll call him John — who was born in the Middle East. John immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. He was a few years older than me and it seemed as though every time I saw him, we ended up talking about religion, politics, and the volatility in the Middle East.
John grew up in a Christian environment and had great love and affection for his wife, parents, and extended family. On one occasion, John made it clear to me that he hated Palestinians. He said that they had no right to live and that they all deserved to die. I was shocked by the level of hatred John had toward people he had never met.
We ended up getting into an argument, with me expressing shock and outrage that he claimed to be a Christian while at the same time expressing extreme hatred toward individuals whose only crime was to be born into a particular ethnic group.
John’s in his 60s now and his health has been declining for the past several years. He no longer goes to church or pays attention to what’s going on in the Middle East. He’s more passive now and is content to just get through each day.
I thought about John last week when I read about what Pope Francis said during a recent press conference. The pope was asked about Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old Catholic priest in northern France who was beheaded by two individuals who had acted in the name of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). In response to the question, Pope Francis replied, “If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence. And no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there is everything.”
With regard to the terrorism that is occurring throughout the world, Pope Francis commented:
It’s a war of interests, a war for money. A war for natural resources and for the dominion of the peoples. Some might say it’s a religious war. Every religion wants peace. The war is wanted by others. Understood? Let’s not be afraid to say the truth. The world is at war, because it’s lost its peace!
Francis then said, “In pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them.” The pope later said that he believes that deep down, Muslims desire peace and harmony, just as Christians do.
After the publication of the pope’s comments, ISIS immediately rejected his statements. The rejection was published in an article titled “By The Sword,” that appeared in a magazine that is put out by ISIS.
The article criticized Pope Francis for being naïve and stated that “Francis continues to hide behind a deceptive veil of goodwill, covering his actual intentions of pacifying the Muslim nation.” The article went on to declare that ISIS’ hatred of Christians is absolute and unstoppable.
Pope Francis’ comments came 10 years after his predecessor was criticized for comments that he made about Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith. The comments were made on September 12, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI, during an academic speech at a university in Germany. During his speech, Pope Benedict read the following quote from Manuel II Palaiologos, a Byzantine emperor who lived six centuries ago:
Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
Pope Benedict’s reference to the quote prompted a furious response from religious and political leaders from throughout the world. In Iraq, members of the Mujahideen Army threatened to “smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome.” In Somalia, a prominent religious leader commanded that Muslims “hunt down” the pope and kill him “on the spot.” In Kuwait, various authorities demanded violent retribution against Catholics. A prominent Al-Qaeda representative announced that “the infidelity and tyranny of the pope will only be stopped by a major attack.”
In response to the calls for violence, there were attacks against a church in Iraq and seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza. In Somalia, an Italian nun was murdered, and in Iraq, two Assyrians were murdered.
The violence subsided after Pope Benedict issued an apology: “I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.”
I can understand why Pope Francis danced around the issue of Islamic terrorism. There is no doubt that he remembers what happened when Pope Benedict dealt with the issue in a more direct manner.
In reality, the war that is being waged by ISIS is a religious, political, and economic war. The goal of ISIS is world domination — domination over all people, banks, businesses, media, courts, hospitals, schools, and other institutions. With regard to Christians, ISIS has made it clear that Christians have only three options: death, convert to Islam, or remain Christian and comply with the laws of the state, which include the payment a special tax by Christians.
For those of us who are Christians and who grew up in the United States, we have a hard time comprehending the true hatred that exists in other parts of the world. We understand that there can be “perfect love,” but we have never considered whether a person can have perfect hatred toward another person?
The word “perfect” is generally described as “whole or complete,” or “being entirely without fault or defect.” God’s love for each of us is perfect, because His love is whole and complete and is entirely without fault or defect.
In the writings of several of the saints, we have been told that it is possible for us to develop a perfect love for God. Unfortunately, it is also possible for us to develop a perfect hatred of God and/or one or more of our fellow human beings.
There is no doubt that the hatred Lucifer and his agents’ have for God and every one of us is whole and complete. He and his agents are completely devoid of love. Their hatred toward us can be characterized as “perfect hate.” Because we humans have a free will, we are also capable of developing perfect hatred toward others.
The men who stormed into the church in France last month and cut off the head of the 86-year-old Catholic priest had developed a perfect hatred toward priests.
Without having ever gone down the diabolical path of total and complete hatred toward another person, we Christians are incapable of fully understanding what perfect hatred really is. But we can clearly see the death and destruction that occurs when hatred takes over the hearts and minds of other people.
It is only through intense prayer and sacrifice that we will ever be able to overcome the hatred that is now rampant throughout the world.