04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

There's No Hatred Like Faith-Based Hatred

God loves you. But there sure are a lot of others he just can't stand.

Or so it would seem if you believe those haters who claim to speak for him. The loathsome Westboro Baptist Church has been peddling its "God Hates Fags" line for so long that even its cretinous congregation gets bored with it. So, for variety's sake, they recently rolled out a new theme in San Francisco: "God Hates Jews."

Not so new, after all, is it? Meantime, halfway around the world, a couple of West Bank settler rabbis claim that God hates everybody but the Jews. Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur have published a new exegesis of the Torah in which, according to the Forward:

The prohibition 'Thou Shalt Not Murder'" applies only "to a Jew who kills a Jew," write the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. Non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature" and attacks on them "curb their evil inclination," while babies and children of Israel's enemies may be killed since "it is clear that they will grow to harm us."

Killing babies and children? That's God's will?

Not to be outdone in the Hatred Olympics, Muslim clerics are keeping busy. Not long ago one Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub went on Egyptian TV to assure viewers that:

The Jews are our enemies. Allah will annihilate them at our hands. This is something we know for certain. We know this for certain - not because I say so, but because Allah said so. 'You shall find that the people strongest in enmity to the believers are the Jews and the polytheists.' That is a quotation from the Qur'an (5:82).

God keeps especially busy in the Middle East, where besides hating both Arabs and Jews, he also divides his time between hating Shi'ites and Sunnis and getting in a little hate-time for the Copts and other Christians when he can.

Don't get the mistaken notion that God hates only broad categories of people. He can get mighty particular when the mood strikes. Take President Obama, for example. Listen to the sermons of preacher Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, and you'll soon learn that God hates, I mean really hates, Barack Obama. It's in the Bible, the Rev says. You could look it up.

Religion is a complex human phenomenon, and I'd be the last person to say it's all about hatred. It's clearly not. But religious expressions of hatred, which not long ago were confined to the fringe -- odd little bookstores, low-power radio stations, that kind of thing -- increasingly fill the mainstream channels of communication, like the mindless zebra mussels clogging up our waterways.

If you suspect, as I do, that religion evolved as a human trait that conferred advantage on groups by increasing solidarity in the competition against other groups, then it's all too easy to see how hatred would become an enduring feature of religion. Of course, we must bear in mind that hatred is not unique to religion. (After all, the Hutus not long ago massacred a million Tutsis in Rwanda without invoking God.) But at this historical moment it is in religion that hatred finds its most powerful and all-consuming expression.

Can anything be done to counter this trend? Of course. Hatred relies on dehumanizing "the other." We can speak out loud and strong against any claim that one group of people or another is deserving of hatred. Our instincts may urge us to an us-and-them mentality, but what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" can overcome those instincts.

Even if we cannot extinguish hatred, we can, as we have with racism, repudiate it. We can reach across ideological boundaries to join hands and declare, "God is love." Here is my hand.