Love Your Enemy

Fr. Richard Rohr:

Practice: Loving Your Enemy

One of the hardest things to understand with the dualistic mind is Jesus’ command to love your enemy. I’m often asked, “How can we love Al-Qaeda or ISIS (Islamic State or Da’esh) or the Westboro Baptists from my own hometown?”

First, I want to point out that violent, fundamentalist religious groups use God-talk constantly: “God is great. This is for God. I’m a martyr for God. I’m on God’s good side, but you’re going to hell.” Their words and behavior are rooted in dualistic thinking where everything is clear-cut black and white, good and bad. This is religion at its worst, entirely lacking in inner experience. And so we can imagine how someone might say, “God is great!” and pull out a gun to shoot thirty people or shout hate speech, having not experienced God as infinite and inclusive love.

I want to be honest and up-front about this. We’re dealing with a lot of low-level, dualistic thinking—in Christianity, in Islam, and in every religion at its immature levels. People use religion to cover their own malevolence, hatefulness, fear, and anger. It’s not just Islam. Christianity has been doing this for centuries. But we’ve got to do better.

How can we do better? To begin, we might put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine why someone is so hateful. While working in the Albuquerque jail for over a decade, I met many men who had been raised in a punitive, authoritarian, absolutist way, often with an absent or abusive father. Understanding another’s story can teach me compassion. It doesn’t mean I let someone take advantage of me. But it does open my heart and help me recognize that they are victims, too. They’ve been wounded, too. Yet they are still objectively an image of God, created in God’s image.

As you’re able to open your heart to your “enemy,” allow God’s love to flow through you to them. Picture their face and hold them in contemplative, silent prayer—a spacious place of loving Presence. Revisit the Loving Kindness Meditation I introduced a few weeks ago to intentionally practice loving everyone, yes, even ISIS.

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