Just a cautionary note: trying to figure out how to love your enemies is something that can be totally appropriate to do from a long ways away. If you are ever in severe physical or emotional danger from a person or community, your first priority should be escape. Self-reflection can wait til you’re safe.
I’m not calling anyone to martyr themselves by enduring abuse for the sake of converting their tormentors or retaining a sense of righteousness or for almost any other reason. Without the breathing room of college (and nerdy summer camp), I would not have been able to stop hating people who bullied me in high school. I probably would have continued as I was: twisted up with bitterness and contempt long after my bullies had moved on.
In a post earlier today, I rejected a vengeance-motivated defense of mockery offered by a commenter but had to agree that the treatment of atheists in America (as well as that of many other marginalized groups) makes my blood boil. Since I rejected the righteous anger approach, I promised to offer my own. Here’s how I try to think about it, but your mileage may vary.
When I am the victim of other people’s scorn and hatred, that is wrong and I should look for every opportunity to ameliorate the harm done and shield other people from my fate. However, when I am bullied, harassed, or despised, I have one consolation: I don’t fall prey to the particular ignorance and/or prejudice that leads people to treat me badly. That’s one burden I don’t have to suffer, and I should try to help my tormentors shed theirs inasmuch as I am able to do so without putting myself in significant physical or emotional danger.
The last thing I should want is to double their suffering by wishing that, in addition to being disfigured by their hatred to the point of wounding others, that they should also have my burden of feeling isolated and rejected. Rejecting their cruelty and dying to their old self, if they ever manage to pull it off, would be painful, but that ache is meant to catalyze a rebirth and new freedom. Self-recognition is punishment enough, I don’t need to wish on them pain for the sake of pain.
And don’t forget, the odds are good that the people hurting me are acting out of ignorance or carelessness. I may be spared their blind spots, but before I indulge in any ‘righteous anger,’ I should remember to check my privilege (see here) and try to be mindful of the swath of victims in my wake. The gravest sin in another doesn’t excuse even the smallest of mine.