How Do You Affirm a Hitler?

“How Do You Affirm a Hitler?”, a sermon on worth and dignity by Rev. Brian J. Kiely
Unitarian Church of Edmonton, Oct 23, 2016


Why You Should Love the People You Hate

June Silny –

“If you and I are having a single thought of violence or hatred against anyone in the world at this moment, we are contributing to the wounding of the world…” —Deepak Chopra

Okay, so you might have a hard time believing that your hatred is harming people in Australia, but there is one sad truth you about it—your hatred is probably hurting you.

Do you find yourself hating people?

Maybe your stepsister ruined your birthday dinner; your best friend kissed your lover; and the guy you eat lunch with every day sneaked behind your back to get the promotion you were next in line for.

Someone did something sneaky, nasty or mean to you, and now you hate him for it. You’re absolutely right. What they did was wrong but hating is bad for you. It’s unhealthy and you can’t be happy until you trash it (your hatred, not the other person’s car).

People hurt you. It’s a fact of life. Whether intentional or unintentional, the pain remains. Usually that hurt turns into hate. Here are some reasons to stop hating and start loving.

1. When you hate someone else, you hate yourself

by allowing this demon to live inside you. How long do you want to hold onto that uncomfortable feeling?

2. To love again, you’ve got to forgive.

If you don’t, you live imprisoned in the past unable to enjoy the present. You destroy your chances for another romance, your next promotion, and a peaceful family dinner.

3. Loathing others makes you feel like an evil person.

Ironically, if you hang on to hatred, you begin to feel like the wrongdoer. Before you know it you’re breathing fire instead of words, your fangs are showing, your claws come out, and your face contorts into twisted shapes. Who’s evil now?

4. Hatred is a personal problem that becomes a global crisis.

Imagine if everyone held onto to his hatred, how much collective hatred there would be in the world.

How to Love People You Hate

1. Look for the lesson.

Each hurtful event has a powerful lesson to teach you.

2. Practice forgiveness.

Release the pain of the past. Open your heart and learn to love again.

3. Love yourself more than you hate others.

Instead of focusing on how angry, hurt, and resentful you are, take a pause, then realize how you are harming yourself by letting these negative emotions live inside you.

Loving someone you hate is probably one of the hardest things to do.

But when you face the facts, there are no good reasons to keep that nasty feeling inside you, and too many good reasons to give it up. Believe in yourself; you can do it. Lying dormant inside you is an undiscovered superpower to accomplish this true test of character.

Only when you become free of this burden, can you start to live a happier life.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.



“How Do You Affirm a Hitler?”  a sermon on worth and dignity   by Rev. Brian J. Kiely

Unitarian Church of Edmonton, Oct. 23, 2016

Our Seven Principles and Six Sources have been around for over 30 years now.  One of my earliest volunteer tasks as a member of the Toronto church was to help lead two workshops designed to gather the grassroots input that helped form those statements.

In the first session we talked about what words and ideas best described our Unitarian Universalism.  In the second session nearly a year later, we looked at several draft statements. Those trial balloons included many of the ideas that wound up in the final document.  I imagine that that was where I first heard the question, “But how do you affirm the worth and dignity of Adolf Hitler?”  And I have heard variations ever since.

It’s a great question. It’s one of those toughies we all have to work out for ourselves.  Can we bend our good will enough to accommodate the existence of evil?

Can we find an explanation for such horrific behaviour that allows us to remain calm? Do we simply make an exception that turns the statement into affirming the worth and dignity of most people?

All are valid ways of responding.  I will share my mental gymnastics in a moment, but it’s not a terribly long answer.  So I want to foreshadow that the rest of the sermon will be more about how we manage the hate that enters pretty much everyone’s heart now and then in this complicated life.  After all, this squirmy question concerning Hitler is really more about us than him. How do we stay true to our values in the face of hatred, horror and violence?

Well, here’s my personal way of reconciling them with my commitment to humane values.

We are each born with worth and dignity.  We arrive in this life deserving love and respect and care and opportunity. Every child deserves to be loved, nurtured and raised to the best of the parent’s and the community’s ability.  Consider it a small treasure.

As we grow, some children becoming adults lose or squander or have that treasure taken away from them.  Their behaviours begin to challenge our ability to tolerate and respect these people.

Some struggle with mental illness that saps their ability to be fully formed and emotionally balanced human beings.  We can find that frightening.

Some may be born without the necessary elements of empathy and are destined to fall into sociopathy or psychopathy.  Those are states where people become mostly incapable of understanding or caring about the needs or the worth of others.

Some are forced to endure the degradations of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or are subject to various kinds of hateful personal or systemic prejudices that break spirits and destroy values.

Some people end up doing terrible things, do physical or emotional violence to other people, to animals, to institutions to the environment.  And I expect that most of us know that some of these patterns of abuse are cyclical and passed generation to generation.  We do what has been done to us.  We learn best what we are taught at an early age.

Most people turn out pretty well, become pretty decent human beings.  Some do not.

The stories behind these people are undeniably tragic whether it’s genetic, situational or societal.

There are people who simply do bad stuff for whatever reason.  They need to be stopped, sometimes at tremendous cost as in the case of a violent dictator, but nevertheless at less cost than would have to be paid by innocents if they were allowed to run loose.  Allowing hate to rule is a prescription for killing a society, for killing civilization, for killing the values we hold most dear.

But can I say these people are or were worthless?  No. They started out as the same human beings we all are, even Hitler. They began with the same treasure of worth and respect.  But somewhere along the way it was lost, spent or stolen.

I can hate their crimes, their evil – but I choose not to hate them.  Hating one human being is in a way, expressing a hatred for all of humanity.  I choose not to do that.

As one of those posters in the meditation read, “Hate is a weak emotion, a sign of failure”. hatred-quotes71

The people who do those things that terrorize, that abuse, that harm, are broken people, unhappy people, lost souls.  I can despise what they do but I cannot hate them outright.  They were someone’s child.  They are part of my race.

And more importantly, hating them diminishes me, weakens me, gets me operating out of that same evil place.  I hate the feelings I have when I am in that place.  As the June Silny reading stated, “When you hate someone else, you hate yourself.”  Thanks, but I’d rather not do that, it feels ugly.

I am willing to work to stop them doing harm, to try to understand them, to figure out how to prevent behaviours like theirs.

I am proud of our American UU coreligionists. In the US many are working social media, knocking on doors and campaigning to defeat Donald Trump.  Whatever else you can say, I think he fits into that category of broken people.  He has lost his sense of worth and dignity and so attacks that of fact-haters-dont-really-hate-youothers.  Another of our meditation memes suggested: “Fact: Haters don’t really hate you. In fact, they hate themselves because you are a reflection of what they wish to be.”

13325550_10207846084004522_548428988007460327_nAn American ministry colleague of mine, Michael Brown, who preached in this pulpit about two years ago, has given up two months of his life.  He has left his job in order to go to battleground state Ohio and work on the Hillary campaign.  And by the way, he is a Sanders supporter with no love for Ms. Clinton.  It’s just that he sees the evil and disrespect in Trump and is putting himself on the line to defeat him.  I am very proud of my friend for living his principles in a very tangible way.

Along with our Seven Principles we have Six Sources supporting them. One is: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”  Michael is doing that.

We are called to face evil with good actions and good intentions that are life affirming and  respectful of the rest of humanity.  Hating haters only breeds more destruction.

We need look no further than the morass of the Middle East with the never ending tribal wars based solely on the belief that the only way to respond to violence and evil is with more violence and evil.  That approach only serves for the arms makers and the grave diggers.

So I personally, admittedly at a safe distance away from bombs and bullets, believe that we begin by reaching out with an open hand and not a closed fist whenever we are able.

And there are lots of places where we can confront hate and evil right around here.  My daughters just attended a field trip at school based on Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.  And, of course, it contained a considerable amount of content about the education ministry’s anti-bullying campaign.  That has been a wonderful place to begin – with children.  The programs teach them to call out the bullies in their schools and to not succumb to that behaviour, to meet bullying with group response and not leave the victim isolated.  It’s not a magical cure – such a thing does not exist – but it is a process that invites people to come together to practice good values and to not remain silent.

And this longstanding anti-bullying program now includes sports figures, celebrities and others speaking out.  It seems to be having some effect. Perhaps the virulent racism and sexism of the Trump campaign is the raging gasps of a minority that feel embattled and trapped.  We will not accept their hate based politics any longer.

Though progress is glacially slow, I believe deeply that the movement to affirm worth and dignity is growing.  A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of supporting a group of students at the U of A as they delivered a message around positive sexual consent to a couple of thousand of their colleagues.  This week saw another round of the Take Back the Night March fuelled by a silly and insensitive column written by Graham Hicks last week.

We saw the wrap up of the Truth and Reconciliation process here in Edmonton two years ago, but the work continues.  I have observed how it is becoming enshrined in city and provincial policies and in awareness projects of all kinds.  The culture is shifting.  A recent report showed that educational levels of Alberta’s indigenous people are steadily rising and closing in on the averages of all other populations. I observe how churches, including our own CUC are developing TRC curricula and events.  Just last weekend four of us went through an amazing day long process on TRC in Saskatoon at the Western Regional Gathering.  The seven UCE youth present did their own shorter program as well.

Problems solved?  Of course not.  You don’t cure a social ill generations in the making in even a few years, but the progress is marked and provable.

A recent video posted by Zinc  (The video is entitled “Some right-wing politicians want us to believe things…)  It boldly claims that the right wing politicians who want to make their nations great again by going backward in time are wrong.  Some of the text reads (and is supported with sources):

Life on earth has never been better.  We live around 40 years longer than in the 19th century.  For the first time ever less than 10% of the world lives in absolute poverty.  We are in school longer than ever before and since 1950 the average IQ has increased by an average of 20 points. For the first time in history more countries are democracies than dictatorships.  This you will find hard to believe, but there is less war than ever.  The far right want us to deny that our lives are better.  They tells us we need to bring back the greatness of our past, but greatness is not in our past, it is in our future.

I affirm the worth and dignity of every person – EVERY PERSON – because hate gets us nowhere.

I can find no better conclusion than Jack Layton’s last public words:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.