Why does society increasingly reflect the opposite of the Bible’s famous command to love your neighbor? Is there hope for Christians in what has become an apparent culture of hate?
Have you noticed the shift? Have you wondered if you have been imagining things? Studies have concluded that you haven’t: People really are growing to hate each other.
Of course, political differences have existed for as long as politics has existed. And it is not unusual for those political differences to become a source of anger and hurt between even the closest of family members and friends.
But it is as if something has changed—like a switch has been flipped. Those on the “other side” politically now seem like more than opponents to be defeated—they seem like enemies to be hated. And the sentiment isn’t limited to politics.
Video clips on our social media feeds document our descent into disdain and contempt for one another: an airline customer punching a gate agent; assaults in our schools—student on student and student on teacher; customers in coffee shops confronting complete strangers, angered by the slogans on their clothing; TikTok “stars” who traumatize unsuspecting victims for the sake of views and followers; waiters and waitresses treated as less than human; “road rage” on our highways, leading to dangerous confrontations and even deaths.
Most of us can see that the turn toward hatred is real—and that it is deeply troubling. But why is it happening? Why is so much of our so-called “civilization” becoming so uncivilized—dominated by a culture of hate and contempt for one’s neighbor?
It would be easy to blame our leaders—and, to many, expressions of hatred and contempt are, indeed, the hallmark of modern politics.
Negative campaigning has been part of American politics almost as long as there has been politics in America. But the vitriol has seemed to increase in recent years, and candidates now attack the voters, not just each other. Hatreds were revealed and inflamed when then-Senator Barack Obama, running for President in 2008, complained about “bitter” Americans who voted for his opponents, saying that they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” And when it was his successor-candidate Hillary Clinton’s turn to run for President, she outraged millions by lamenting what she called the “basket of deplorables” who supported her opponent. In turn, she lost that election to a candidate, Donald Trump, who remains the king of the schoolboy insult and public putdown, “gifted” with the ability to coin memorable and mocking phrases to demean those who would oppose him. The current U.S. President, Joe Biden, has labeled an entire swath of his nation’s population “MAGA Republicans,” publicly calling them a dangerous threat to democracy.
It’s hard to get more disdainful than claiming the other party’s supporters seek nothing less than the destruction of your nation. Yet such claims are now the norm in American politics, with those on either side of each key ideological divide treating those on the other side as traitors worthy of nothing but contempt—practically subhuman.
Even so, most of the Western nations are led by representative governments, where the leaders must gain the support—and votes—of the public to stay in office. Yes, the leaders influence their people, but they gain and keep the ability to have that influence by giving people what they want.
Arthur Brooks, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, noted this phenomenon in an interview with Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour: “In a democratic society, in a capitalist culture, our leaders actually are followers. They tend to be a consequence, not a cause of our actions.… [T]hey do affect us, and they do affect our culture, to be sure. But what’s happening in democratic societies and with democratic elections is that leaders see a parade going down the street, and they jump out in front of it to be the leader.”
Is Brooks correct? Consider how many people complain about “attack ads” against other politicians. But then ask, Would we be seeing so many if they didn’t work?
The situation is not helped by what Brooks calls in his book Love Your Enemies the “outrage industrial complex.” It is composed of modern media channels that “keep their audiences hooked on contempt by telling audiences what they want to hear, selling a narrative of conflict and painting gross caricatures of the other side. They make us feel justified in our own beliefs while affirming our worst assumptions about those who disagree with us—namely that they are, in fact, stupid, evil, and not worth giving the time of day” (p. 29).
Of course, hatred would not be such good business for media moguls or preening politicians if it didn’t feel so good to us—and it does feel good to so many. But why?
What is it in our culture that has brought us to a point where so many of us find such satisfaction in viewing those who disagree with or inconvenience us as objects of disdain, less than human—or, at least, less human than we are?
Jesus Christ points to an answer few expect to hear and few researchers will bother to investigate.
In His famous—but generally misunderstood—Olivet Prophecy, Christ directly connected our world’s hateful, contemptuous atmosphere to the lack of God’s law. Pointing His disciples to the future, prophesying the conditions that would abound in the days leading to His Second Coming, Jesus stated plainly that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
Christ was not speaking of disobedience to the laws of men and civil governments. He made His pronouncement immediately after speaking of false prophets, who will “deceive many” and will lead most of society away from the true faith (v. 11). He was noting a profound reality: As mankind’s trajectory of self-rule continues to take us further and further away from the laws and commandments of our Creator, we also sink deeper and deeper into an environment in which even our most natural affections grow colder and colder—as our hatred for one another burns hotter and hotter.
Throughout your Bible, many passages offer a warning similar to Christ’s, foretelling an end-time environment of hatred and contempt and revealing that our civilization will descend still further into lawless evil—so much so that we would destroy ourselves if not for Christ’s eventual, inevitable return (vv. 21–22).
The prophet Isaiah, writing in the eighth century BC, described a future time of stifling oppression, in which the heights of our civilization would begin to decay into ruin. But the burden of oppression is not so much from the rulers—selfish and incompetent as they are (Isaiah 3:1–4). Rather, “[t]he people will be oppressed, every one by another and every one by his neighbor; the child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable” (v. 5).
Neighbor against neighbor. The child against the elder.
The prophet Micah adds insight into the condition such a society can reach—an environment in which even your most intimate of companions is a potential enemy. “Do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom. For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household” (Micah 7:5–6). Jesus Christ quoted this very passage in His discussion of the days to come (Matthew 10:34–36).
The Apostle Paul prophetically described the “last days” of this age, highlighting that people will be “unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, [and] brutal” (2 Timothy 3:1–4). His words parallel the description he gives in the book of Romans, where he says people will be “violent, proud, boasters, …unloving, unforgiving, [and] unmerciful” (Romans 1:30–31).
Such descriptions call to mind the days of Noah before the Flood, concerning which we are told that “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11). And it is worth noting that Christ warned of the days preceding His return having much in common with the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37).
Those who think that such times are impossible in a “civilized,” modern world such as ours fail to recall that in the years before the Holocaust, less than a century ago, Germany was considered one of the most civilized nations in human history—a global center of art, philosophy, science, and culture. But once the power of hatred was unleashed, that civilization became the global center for the industrialized slaughter of human beings deemed subhuman.
In a society where leaders stir up anger to rouse their political base, and where an angered populace in turn supports ever-angrier leadership, we should not be surprised when whole groups of people are subjected to dehumanizing rhetoric by their enemies. After all, in an atmosphere of violent hatred, it is so much easier to kill a dangerous “animal” than to reason with a human opponent.
And the Bible makes it clear that this violent atmosphere will only grow worse. In the years just before Jesus Christ returns, this interpersonal hatred and spirit of violence will find a laser-like focus on one group detested more than all others: those who defy conventional religion—and even a counterfeit “Christianity”—by remaining true to Christ’s biblical teachings, despite persecution by those falsely claiming His name for themselves. In fact, the Apostle John records Jesus’ own prophecy that those who kill such faithful followers among their neighbors will believe that they are serving God by their murders (John 16:2).
On the largest scale, a mindset of dehumanizing hatred will ultimately destroy the very foundations of a society and civilization. A people cannot remain a people when the individuals comprising that people detest one another. Eventually, the bonds holding that society together are ripped asunder, and its self-destruction is inevitable.
On the most intimate scale, dehumanizing hatred will corrode our individual character and spirit. Such hatred represents the very opposite of the approach to life and relationships that Jesus Christ came to exemplify for us—and the opposite, as well, of the way of life He will teach the entire world after His return. In fact, He will do far more than merely teach it—He will empower the world to make His loving approach an everyday reality.
Many are familiar with Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)—a command He quotes from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) as a fundamental principle of God’s law.
But the fullness of the love He commands of us is not often fully appreciated. And perhaps some of us, in our toxic modern environment, would challenge Him just as one of His listeners did, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
Jesus responded with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man traveling from Jerusalem was attacked by thieves and left “half dead.” This man was not aided by any passersby until a Samaritan man took compassion on him and helped him. The popularity of that parable is why, in English, those who sacrifice of themselves and show compassion to others are called “Good Samaritans.”
Christ’s choice of a Samaritan as the hero of the parable was boldly instructive. The Jews and Samaritans of Jesus’ day had no love for each other. They were bitter enemies, each despising the others’ religion and conduct. Christ’s parable wasn’t meant to endorse the Samaritans’ religion, doctrine, or practices—which He explicitly disagreed with and strongly repudiated (John 4:19–22). But He would not hate or “dehumanize” them for it, even when they turned their hatred and prejudice toward Him (Luke 9:51–56).
Christ wasn’t asking His audience to pretend that there were no disagreements between Jews and Samaritans—nor that the Samaritans were not utterly wrong and twisted in their faith, which was a perversion of the true faith God had given Israel. Pretending that profound differences don’t really exist is not a path to creating reconciliation, finding solutions, or establishing truth. Rather, loving each of our fellow human beings as someone who is, like us, made in the image of our Creator, despite those differences, is the foundation of that path.
In fact, loving your neighbor is not even the most radical aspect of Jesus’ teaching in this regard. The Son of God commands all who would follow Him to raise the bar even higher:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43–45).
When we can barely find the strength and courage to love our neighbors, how can we expect to love our enemies? That transformation can only come from within, but unless the world around us supports us in that change, it can be almost impossible. This is why our world so desperately needs Jesus Christ to return, bringing the Kingdom of God with Him.
When Jesus Christ returns from Heaven, as He promised He will do, He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. His way of life, and God’s laws that outline and support that way, will spread to all corners of planet Earth during a time commonly referred to as the Millennium—a thousand-year span that will precede the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20). That Judgment will be a time when those who lived and died without truly recognizing His message will be resurrected for their opportunity to recognize and accept Him as Savior. There will be no human being who lived and died without an opportunity for salvation.
Yet that salvation is more than obedience to laws and rules. The returned Jesus Christ will be King, but He will do much more than teach and enforce God’s laws. Laws and rules of behavior aren’t enough if the human heart itself is not fundamentally transformed. One reason why our modern world has descended into the depths of interpersonal hatred is that, fundamentally, we remain flesh-and-blood human beings who routinely fail to transcend our own selfishness. The enduring lesson we learn from ancient Israel is that laws alone—even divine laws—are not enough.
If ever a set of laws could be sufficient to breathe life into a society and transform its citizens so that they might reflect the love and selflessness of God, it would be the set of laws given to Israel about 3,500 years ago (Galatians 3:21; cf. Psalm 19:7). But while God’s law communicates His high standard and is holy and good (Romans 7:12), it alone cannot change the sinful, carnal, human heart. In fact, the inspired words of Scripture assure us that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
This is why the Eternal God has ensured that the history of ancient Israel was recorded in Scripture to teach us that lesson. The Israelites were given the greatest set of laws human beings could ever hope to possess, yet those laws were not enough to prevent the nation’s eventual descent into selfish depravity, to the point where some even sacrificed their own children to heathen gods (Ezekiel 23:37)—much as our modern world sacrifices children to the popular “god” of personal convenience in abortion clinics around the world.
Changing the heart is beyond the reach of even the most powerful human ruler. But the reigning Jesus Christ will be no mere mortal president or prime minister. He will accomplish what no political system, false religion, or human-invented moral philosophy ever could achieve: the transformation of each individual human being, from the inside out.
Jesus Christ will not only bring to our world His just, caring, and compassionate laws; He will also make available the Spirit of God to dwell inside all who will accept His rule in their lives (cf. John 7:37–39). And, as the laws and righteous ways of living found only in Him spread to cover the entire world during His Millennial reign (Isaiah 11:9), so too will the outpouring of His Spirit on a repentant humanity allow men and women everywhere to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). And those who surrender to Him today—His firstfruits—will be there with Him, serving as teachers. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). Yes, we who overcome in this age will be there to help others overcome after Christ returns.
Human beings need the love of God within them if they are to learn to practice His way—to truly love their fellow man and live the laws of love our Creator provides. And it is by His Spirit that His love is poured into the hearts of men (Romans 5:5). When that spirit is poured out upon a repentant humanity during the reign of Christ, the result will be a world in which the idea of hating one’s neighbor will become as foreign as the idea of hating one’s own flesh. Even nations with longstanding historical hostilities will enjoy peace with each other (cf. Isaiah 19:23–25) as people of all languages and cultures recognize the good things pouring forth into the world from Jerusalem—and want those blessings for themselves (Zechariah 8:20–23).
With Satan bound for a thousand years upon Christ’s return (Revelation 20:1–3), the King of kings will make hatred a thing of the dark and distant past. And in its place will be a new practice, fully embraced by a world that has finally learned how to do so: loving your neighbor as yourself.
That promised world of love—a global society that has been transformed beyond carnal partisanship, division, and hatred—need not remain merely a future hope for you. While the nations of the world will choose their own course, as their date with destiny hastens, your own course is for you to choose. The “powers of the age to come” can be tasted now in our individual lives (Hebrews 6:5) if we are willing to turn those lives over to the only One who can truly transform them.
Yes, our present world is filled with hate—and the full measure of hatred that will be unleashed before Christ’s return is not yet met. But you and I need not partake of that awful brew. We can instead partake of something so much better. The love of God—and the joy and peace of mind that come with it—is available now, for all who are willing to repent of their sins, utterly give every aspect of their lives over to Jesus Christ’s righteous reign, and embrace the way of life He offers. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
If you have allowed yourself to be touched by hate—hate for someone whose politics, ideology, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion differs from yours—you must repent. And you can. You can change. God can help.
Tomorrow’s world, in which every man, woman, and child learns to truly love their neighbors, will be built by those who learn to love their enemies today.