Inner Life

Only love can drive out hate

By Roland Ashby


One of the most shocking aspects of the brutal treatment by police towards George Floyd, which caused his death, was that it was so brazen, and so calmly and routinely carried out. This suggests a fundamental and intrinsic problem of the police seeing him as less than human. Hence the resurgence, and necessity, of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

What is also remarkable is that his family appealed for calm and peaceful protest in the face of such treatment and suffering. To understand this we have to recall the profound influence of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr on America’s Civil Rights Movement.

He said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr was also greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, and both dedicated their lives to overcoming prejudice and discrimination, fear and hate, and speaking truth to power. Both understood the necessity of taking up their cross, and the suffering this entailed. Both endured enormous suffering, and both were murdered.

The truth they sought to make the basis of their lives was what Gandhi called satyagraha (“truth force” or “soul force”), a spiritual force which saw one’s enemies not as opponents to be defeated, but as fellow human beings, who, while being misguided and ignorant, and often hateful and violent, also shared a common humanity, and are also made in the image and likeness of the God who is love, and are capable of being moved by the suffering of those they opposed.

Gandhi was powerfully influenced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, particularly the exhortation beginning, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6 v27-28). This helped to form the basis of his non-violent resistance to oppression, prejudice and discrimination.

Part of the power of satyagraha, “soul force”, a love so great that it can even love and forgive enemies, is that when it is embodied in non-violent protest, it holds up a mirror to the perpetrator of the violence and oppression in which they see both the ugly disfigurement of their hate, but also that the basis of their true humanity is something perfect and beautiful - not hate, but love. They see that they too are capable of this love, and they are at their best when they show this love.

It not enough for the non-violent protester merely to passively accept suffering, he or she must also demonstrate an active love and respect for the persecutor. This is to know God. As St John said, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).

The supreme example of this love can be seen in the death that Jesus accepted, an agonising death on a cross, and his forgiveness for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Here was a love so powerful it has reverberated throughout millennia.

Being prepared to suffer is an essential part of such love. According to US writer and peace activist James W Douglass, “Gandhi followed Christ in identifying genuine faith and discipleship with the taking up of one’s personal cross. In a talk given to a group of Christians on Christmas Day, he said: ‘We dare not think of birth without death on the Cross. Living Christ means a living Cross; without it life is a living death.’” 

The suffering endured by non-violent protestors also plays its part in helping the oppressors to see their victims as just as human as them. Douglass explains:

“The logic of non-violence is the logic of crucifixion and leads the person of non-violence into the heart of the suffering Christ. The purpose of non-violence is to move the oppressors to perceive those whom they are oppressing as human beings. Humans commit acts of violence and injustice against other human beings only to the extent that they do not regard them as fully human. Non-violent resistance seeks to persuade the aggressors to recognise in their victims the humanity they have in common; when that is fully recognised violence is impossible.”


A shorter version of this article was published on The Sunday Age website on 14 June.

Roland Ashby is the former editor of TMA.