I don’t know if you like the Horror film genre, but I sort of do. I say “sort of” because, even at 30 years old, I still close my eyes during certain parts because I get so scared. I guess I (and a whole lot of us, it seems) like the sensation of being scared in a safe environment. One of the scariest movies that I can remember growing up was Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Good grief. “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you…” Ah! It still scares me! That was and is such an interesting take on the horror genre. Instead of some sort of vampire, werewolf, or maniac terrorizing people, the antagonist in this story, Freddy Krueger, lived and terrorized people in their dreams (or nightmares, rather). Once a person fell asleep (which is something that folks do), they went from the safety of this world to the nightmarish dreamscape that was his world. I was terrorized by this concept. Can you imagine how difficult it was, as an adolescent, to fall asleep with the unreasonable fear that you could be harmed in your dreams? Whew. I lost a lot of sleep because of that film. Thanks, Freddy.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film, though, was the way the protagonists could battle with Freddy. To beat this monster, you couldn’t win by the use of force of violence. It was, of course, his world in which the terror took place. The only way to beat him was for everyone, across the planet, to no longer be afraid of him. Freddy, you see, preyed on fear. Fear gave him life. When enough individuals decided to not be afraid of him, he would be no more. Choice. That’s a very interesting weapon to combat an adversary. If enough people decided they no longer wanted to be afraid, he would actually go away. In this sense, the vile antagonist (with terrifying blades on his gloves, yikes) doesn’t actually have the power. The power rests in the choices of the protagonists. They can choose to eliminate him simply by not giving in to fear. But, as we know, it’s hard not to give into fear.
In the context of our world, in which fear and terror are not relegated to nightmares but instead it enters nightclubs, movie theaters, college campuses, elementary schools, and city streets, we could all take a lesson from A Nightmare on Elm Street. We live in a world that can be so terrifying, where hatred and fear are so real and so pervasive. We live in a world that is, in many ways, more terrifying than Wes Craven’s world because hate is scarier than fictional monsters.
Hate causes people to do terrible and inhuman things. On Sunday, June 12th, we saw the tragic reality of hatred manifest. The reality is that hatred twisted a man in Florida enough that he no longer saw his fellow sisters and brothers as neighbors, but instead as targets. We’re still in shock from the outcome of his hatred. Lives have been lost, families have been broken, and safety has been compromised for so many people across our nation. It’s easy to point the blame at the man who did this, but if we do this we don’t consider that driving force behind his actions. Hate. We’ve probably all seen the bumper sticker that says “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I would advocate for the second clause in the sentence to read “Hate kills people” instead. Hatred can manifest itself in the form of religious and ideological radicalism, racism, homophobia, and/or xenophobia. Whatever form it takes, hate is hate.
Hate is an interesting force in our world. Hate blinds us to certain fundamental truths about the human condition. Hate makes us suspicious of people who we deem different than us. Hate reduces people from children of God to flat caricature against which we discriminate, undermine, or even kill. Hate rips the fabric that holds the human family together. But the most interesting thing about hatred is the that we have the choice to eliminate it, just as the folks in A Nightmare on Elm Street can eliminate the monster, Freddy Krueger.
In the context of hate, especially in the wake of the tragedy of the murder of our sisters and brothers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it’s easy to be engulfed in the sea of fear, anger, and hatred. In response to such an act, such an expression of hatred in our world due to a reductionist view of our sister and brothers, we can reduce others and hate them right back. We can pick religious groups, ethnic groups, any group, and hate them in response to this act. People, here, are not our enemy in the same way that Freddy Krueger isn’t the enemy of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Hatred and fear are our enemies. Hatred that reduces people to stigmas and caricatures. Fear that causes us to distrust our neighbors, religious groups, and even entire racial groups. Like those protagonists in A Nightmare on Elm Street, we, too, can eliminate our enemies with our choices. We can choose to add hatred and fear to our context. We can place blame on entire peoples. We can close off our borders. We can provide fertile ground for the hatred, that killed so many of our fellow human beings, to flourish. We can do this by perpetuating hatred and fear. That path, however, will only give our enemy life. We can choose this path. It’s the easier path.
The more difficult path, however, is one that says no to prejudice, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and any other form of worldview that reduces the sanctity of humans, who were created in God’s image, to objects of hatred. We must understand that there is plenty enough hatred and fear in our world and we have the choice, in our own lives and in the contexts of our communities, to say no to hatred. We have the choice. One by one, we can say no. We can say no to racial and ethnic profiling of an entire group based on the actions of a few. We can say no to dehumanizing our brothers and sisters due to sexual orientation. We can say no to distrusting and devaluing people based on gender. We have the power to do these things. We also have the power to keep hatred alive.
Imagine a world in which God’s love flourished. A place free of the kind of hatred that breeds murder, discrimination, and all the -isms that tell our fellow brothers and sisters that they are less than a child of God. Imagine a world like that, a world that hatred no longer had ears to listen, eyes to see, and mouths to speak. Freddy Krueger could be defeated by choice and so can hatred. Imagine a world in which hatred is no more. Do you want a world like that? With God’s help, we have the choice to make it happen. We have the choice.