This is my column in today’s Greenville News.

Hateful words do damage.|newswell|text|Opinion|p

Recently, two deaths shed remarkable insight into the human capacity for cruelty and hatred.  Early this month Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of noted American pastor and author Rick Warren, died by his own hand.  He had suffered from lifelong depression and had received extensive professional care.  He apparently spent the day with his family then shot himself that night.

A few days later, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, passed away of a stroke at 87.  Her policies were polarizing, to say the least. Progressives hated her and conservatives adored her.

In the wake of both deaths, there were voices of sympathy and mourning.  Kind persons said they were sorry were for the families of these widely separated, unrelated persons; one a broken young man, the other a venerable world leader.

Of course, there’s another side.  The side that believes in kicking a family when it’s down. The side that is gleeful at the death of an ideological foe.  The side that ignores the old axiom, ‘don’t speak ill of the dead.’

In response to a USA Today column about Matthew Warren’s death, some left comments that saying there was no heaven or hell, so Matthew’s Parents would never see him again. Others attacked his father, suggesting the tragedy was a kind of  ‘just desserts’ because of his conservative theology, particularly his stance against same-sex marriage.  Another explained that the Warrens should simply abandon primitive superstitions like their faith.  Obviously, there were many kind comments, many heart-felt expressions of grief. But there were plenty who felt that this was the perfect time to launch a verbal and emotional assault on Rick Warren, his family and his faith.

Those thrilled with Thatcher’s demise asked fellow supporters to buy copies of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead from the Wizard of Oz, to propel it up the charts so that BBC Radio would have to play it on their weekly Official Charts Show.  Street parties celebrated her death and assorted online comments mocked her state funeral, saying that it should have been privatized ‘the way she would want it.’  Not surprising, since some British artists have hated her for so long.  In 1987, musician Elvis Costello released a song with these unfortunate lyrics about Margaret Thatcher:  ‘I’ll stand on your grave and stamp the dirt down.’

Fast forward to the horrors of this week’s Boston Marathon, where a terrorist bomb left three dead, hundreds injured (many critically) and resulted in some 30 amputations.  As a nation we shake our heads.  World leaders say how sorry they are.  Sympathetic persons overseas, in places like Baghdad, express their concern…they know a few things about bombs in crowded places.  We check the television and the Internet, waiting for what we hope is an answer, a suspect, any bit of information to put the pain and suffering into some kind of category.  Hoping at least for someone to blame; for some face to attach to our fears that we might also be in a crowd, one day, when suddenly flames and shrapnel erupt.  We know what, when and where. We want the other W’s. Who and why?

We can’t imagine that anyone could be so cruel.  Why hate that much?  Why would anyone need to detonate a bomb in a crowd?  Who could despise innocent people and murder them? Who could feel such hatred towards free people on a lovely day in a beautiful city?

Here’s the thing.  The Bible says ‘From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.’  History is clear; ideas become words and lead to actions.  If we can hate the mourning, if we can dance with joy at the death of legitimately elected leaders, how far is it to violence?  If we can speak cruelly to the suffering, if we can laugh at misery, if we can write lyrics celebrating death, how long until we can laugh as we cause suffering? Until we laugh in the face of the miserable, rather than hiding online?  How long until we feel fully justified killing the persons whose ways of life, ideas or goals we find reprehensible?

St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, said this in 1 John 3:15:  ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’  If he’s right, and I believe he is, the line between hateful words and nail-packed bombs may be thinner than we like to believe.

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