Timothy McVeigh, sentenced to die for the Oklahoma City bombing,
requested that the government “hold a true public execution” by televising
This reminded me of a short story by the late Steve Allen, still vivid
to me after many years, called “The Public Hating.” In terse, descriptive prose, Allen described a new method of killing
those convicted of crimes. At a prescribed time, participants filled Yankee
Stadium while those at home gathered in front of their television sets.
The event in the sports arena took on the trappings of public hangings
in the old days — a festive occasion the entire family could enjoy. Vendors
in the stands hawked hot dogs. Small children sported balloons.
Suddenly the stadium hushed as the prisoner was solemnly led to the center
platform. Spotlights illuminated him so that every facial expression could
be observed, every movement recorded on the nation?s psyche. Then the execution
With focused attention, each viewer projected feelings of hate toward
the condemned man. Children watched their elders? intense expressions as they
learned to direct their own emotions toward the target.
Soon they were rewarded as they watched the object of their hatred begin
to shrivel and die, writhing with horrible contortions. They learned that
their hatred had the power to kill.
Allen delivered a powerful message with this story. I am often reminded
of it when observing the manifestations of hatred prevalent in our country
today — the violence of some religionists toward gays, culminating in the
cruel and brutal death of Matthew Shepard; the persistence of racism, with
the modern day lynching of James Byrd in Texas and the attack by a white supremacist
against a Jewish day-care center; the prevalence of sexism, resulting in
untold numbers of rapes, beatings and psychological scarring of women; and
now the rise of denominational religious schools, teaching children that only
their own kind are worthy of association. Religious hate groups, such as
the KKK, World Church of the Creator, and Army of God, abound.
Steve Allen correctly perceived that hatred is a human failing, and that
it is a powerful emotion that can be utilized to overpower logic and compassion
in order to accomplish specific agendas..
The ability to hate is an undeniable trait of humankind. Although we often
hear that Christian “love” can overcome all the failings we possess,
in 2000 years it hasn?t happened. Instead, the Bible seems to intensify a
believer?s own proclivities. It is used by a cruel person to justify more
cruelty. A kind person finds completely different guidelines in it. Human
nature remains essentially unchanged.
While Canada, all the European Union countries, and even Russia have rejected
the use of capital punishment, many in the United States still cite the retaliatory
harshness of the Old Testament — an eye for an eye — as justification for
This is a nation that could, indeed, carry out a “public hating,”
were such a thing possible!
Perhaps it is time to try simple reason and compassion instead of relying
on religion. As another author, James Baldwin, writes in “The Fire Next Time,” “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be
to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it
is time we
got rid of Him.”