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King: In the presence of mine enemies

POSTED: November 19, 2013 1:00 a.m.

I love the 23rd Psalm. It resonates with believers and doubters alike. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t meditate on its words, for surely I have been led beside the still waters and made to lie down in green pastures.

But there are problems: I do fear evil. It is real, and it is out there prowling around in the darkness.

It’s said you can judge a man by his friends. Oscar Wilde flipped that old canard on its head. He believed you could judge a man by his enemies. The psalmist also says to God, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What enemies?

I consider no man (or woman) my enemy, and if anyone thinks I am their enemy, I’d like to meet them, get to know them and get them to know me. But the idea of “an enemy” is powerful, and it motivates much that is troubling the world today.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” but as my mother once remarked candidly, “Frankly Joan, that’s ridiculous.”

Maybe. You don’t bomb, burn or starve people you love, so let’s have a serious dialogue about hate. The word is tossed about all the time: I hate the cold. I hate Brussels sprouts. I hate that song.

Then there is the kind of hate that drove a New Jersey-based columnist to tell Times readers the only way to protect themselves from Iran is to bomb the country’s nuclear sites. There’s the kind of hate that caused a man I overhead in a coffee shop say the only thing we can do with a Muslim is to kill him. There’s the kind of hate that makes otherwise rational people suggest that every undocumented alien should be rounded up and shipped back to their country of origin.

None of the above is possible. Bombing Iran’s nuclear sites — even assuming we knew where they were and could get them all — could ignite World War III. Killing an individual because of his religion violates everything this country stands for. Finding and deporting every undocumented alien would strain our country’s financial resources and undermine our paramilitary forces to an unacceptable degree.

But once these hate-driven thoughts are released into the public psyche, the damage is done. Evil begins to take shape in the shadows.

The nation is divided, and division breeds hate. Each political party blames the other. Members of Congress use to live in and around D.C. Their kids played together; their families knew each other. Not so today, when one can jet from coast to coast in about 51/2 hours. Members of Congress no longer bring their families with them to Washington. A Republican member of Congress returns home to a Republican district whenever he can. A Democratic member of Congress returns to a Democratic district.

Today’s lack of familiarity has bred distrust, and distrust has morphed into dislike. Finally the two parties see each other as enemies. The growing divide between the rich and the poor does the same thing. People with extreme religious views exhibit the worst kind of animosity because they do it in the guise of love. “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

I may be a sinner, but that is a matter between me and my God. Even the new Pope declines to condemn. “Who am I to judge?” he said. Those five words did more to heal an age-old schism between Catholics and other world religions than all the speeches and prayers that have come before.

Hate is spread by fear, fear of the unknown. Get to know the other guy. At best you will have made a friend. At worst, you will feel only pity. Hate is not a natural emotion, but fear is.

Hate is learned. Beware those who use fear to create hatred. It is a strategy used by political manipulators to control a vulnerable populace.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at


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