Yes, hate is a sin, and thus would seem to run against the Puritan principles upon which this nation was founded. But don’t forget that one reason Puritans came to these shores was for the opportunity to enjoy the full and unhindered hatred of Catholics (a tradition currently being revived by Democratic Senators who oversee the U.S. Supreme Court).

In fact, Americans have never been against sin in and of itself. Rather, we’ve always believed in sinning the right way. Racism, for example, is utterly evil, unless it involves denying slots at Ivy League schools to people who’ve made the tragic lifestyle decision of being white, Asian, or Jewish — in which case, racism becomes the Lord’s work. And then there’s gambling, which has devastating effects on the most vulnerable members of our society and, therefore, is a job left entirely to the state lottery commission.

There are dozens more examples of this American “Love the sin, hate the sinner” mentality, but none more glaring than our national love of hate.

On the one hand, hatred is so anathema that it is actually possible to be criminally prosecuted for merely experiencing the emotion. Jump a guy and take his wallet and, if you’re caught, you might do six months in the jug. But jump the same guy, take the same wallet while uttering an impolitic comment about his race, religion, or fondness for HBO’s Six Feet Under, and you could get an extra five years in the slammer. Your crime? Hate.

And yet, such is the complexity of the American psyche that not hating presents risks as well. There are gatherings in our nation where an off-hand comment like “I don’t think President Bush is so bad” could result in immediate censure. There are college campuses where hating Israel is essential to maintaining a high grade-point average.

Every decent, right-thinking American knows it is his duty to hate Big Oil. We hate them for earning “obscene” profits by charging market prices for their products. In fact, we hate Big Oil so much, we hated them 10 years ago when they were losing obscene amounts of money doing the same thing.

But of all the de rigueur hatreds that bind Americans into a more perfect union, the one that inspires the most passion (and, in my case, the most confusion) is our fear and loathing of Wal-Mart.

Websites are dedicated to it. Protests are held over it. City councils fall before it. There is even a (so-called) documentary on the subject, entitled — and I’m paraphrasing this from memory — Why Hitler Shops At Wal-Mart, And Feels Guilty About It Afterwards.

Or something like that. I seem to recall the word “cannibalism” was in the title somewhere, too.

So passionate are the anti-Wal-Martonians that the company has been forced to launch an entire PR campaign in its own defense. They’ve got their own movie, trying to counter the argument that Wal-Mart is a force for evil, a form of free-market plague that is strangling us with its seemingly endless supply of 79 cent underwear and $12 jeans.

I know people who hate Wal-Mart. I’ve interviewed the founders of anti-Wal-Mart websites and leaders of protests to prevent Wal-Marts from being built in their communities. And whenever possible I try to interrupt their petition-gathering and sign-waving and protest marching to get them to answer the same question:

“So why not just shop somewhere else?”

The simplicity of the question seems to startle them. They act as though I’ve asked a starving Ethiopian family why they don’t just send out for pizza.

Merely not shopping at Wal-Mart isn’t sufficient, they insist. Wal-Mart must be opposed, it must be resisted, it must be destroyed. Wal-Mart must be despised with the very blackest hatred of the darkest corners of the human heart!

Personally, I’d rather just go to Target.

Why all this hatred over a store? It’s just a place to buy diapers and cat litter. I personally don’t care to shop at Sears due to some unpleasant memories from my youth involving my mother, a pair of “Husky” jeans, and a lack of private changing facilities. But I don’t drive by the local Sears shaking my fist and shouting “One day I will have my revenge!”

I am told that Americans hate Wal-Mart because the company uses low-wage labor. This probably explains why Americans hate fast food, parking garages, and movie theaters as well. Americans also hate Target for selling cheap, Chinese-made crap at lower prices than their competitors sell cheap, Chinese-made crap. And we especially hate Wal-Mart for driving our beloved “Mom & Pop” owned stores out of business. We miss running to five different “Ye Olde Mom & Pop Shoppes” to finally find the one item we need on their poorly-stocked shelves, and then paying twice the Wal-Mart price once we find it.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

But even if you agree with all these anti-Wal-Mart arguments, why isn’t it enough to simply let the free market work its magic? If you’re right, and Wal-Mart is truly awful, then the stores will be empty and the company will go broke.

But it won’t go broke. In fact, the only thing being broken at Wal-Mart these days is the odd arm or leg as shoppers trample each other fighting to get to the $200 plasma TV sets.

Admit it, you Wal-Mart whackos: You love this sin. So would you mind laying off of us sinners?

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