This year, I gave up Hate for Lent. I decided I’d keep quiet about it, on the grounds that bragging about your sacrifice is morally tacky. No one noticed, but, for the record, giving up Hate is harder than giving up alcohol.I did not give up Petty Hate. That would be like giving up wine gums and saying you’d given up wine. I wasn’t a Grumpy Old Woman on the lookout for the red emptive qualities in the lowlifes who dump car engines and old fridges in our ancient woodlands before helping themselves to the diesel from the farm pump. No, I gave up the Hate which passeth all understanding, the Hate which my dentist says is wearing away my clenched teeth, the Hate which is responsible for the extra 10lbs I carry around because most evenings I medicate myself with the kind of red wine that does not improve with age. I gave up the Hate that I feel for George W. Bush.
And before my sooty dot had vanished on Ash Wednesday, I knew I had made a mistake. Because in order to turn down the Hate volume, you have to tune in Forgiveness and, for me to actually forgive George Bush was too big an ask. As C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity: ‘If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.’
So I made a little deal with God: forget forgiveness. Let me just try to see the President as a human being. I knew from the start that this would require a vow of silence, which is to say it would be easier for me to see the President as a human being if I didn’t hear him speak. Whenever he appeared on the news, I pushed the mute button on the remote. Believe me, this was a big help.
But by week two, I had made another discovery about Hate. It is never confined just to one person. After Earl Spencer went off with another woman when the Countess was eight months pregnant, she sent an email to their friends saying that they had to choose between them: ‘I’m afraid that it is impossible for me to trust those of you who wish to side with him and you can’t be with both.’ I understand completely. You hate the faithless husband, and you hate the 30-year-old he goes off with and you hate the friends who will go to their wedding. You don’t just hate the President: you hate the Prime Minster who gave him gravitas and legitimacy, and you hate the Chancellor who sat sucking his tongue in silence for a decade. Hate is like a sexually transmitted disease: it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
There should be warnings: traces of Hate may be found wherever there are signs of life. On a clear day, I don’t just hate the men who started the war. I also hate the Shias and the Sunnis for killing each other. I hate the African leaders for not ganging up on Mugabe. I hate the fishermen who use nets to catch tuna and kill dolphins. And I also hate myself for not entering Holy Week transformed, sweeter, better, like a spiritual Ten Years Younger makeover.
Still, something has happened. When I used to give up sugar for Lent, Easter Sunday would end in a chocolate coma. This Easter, I don’t feel like an orgy of fury. I keep repeating the advice of that agricultural prophet Micah ‘Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God’ and I say little prayers of thanks as Bush’s approval ratings reach historical lows.