Recently, Timothy McVeigh, sentenced to die for the Oklahoma City
bombing, requested that the government "hold a true public execution"
by televising his death.
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 nationís
psyche. Then the execution began.
With focused attention, each viewer projected feelings of hate toward
the condemned man. Children watched their eldersí 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 hasnít happened. Instead, the Bible seems to
intensify a believerís 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 continuing it.
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."