Apparently, heretics are hated while nonbelievers are simply despised.

Does any of this make any sense?

Actually, yes.

First of all, faith is like riding a bike.
If you stop moving, you either fall or you  have to put a foot on the ground.
And, after you learn how to do it, you don’t have to think about it anymore.
All is fine as long as you keep on moving…

Secondly, some people need to learn how to curb their initial enthusiasm… which is not such an easy thing to do… and the more dedicated among them have the greater difficulties…
Let me give you an example from the world of the martial arts.
The corpus of knowledge pertaining to this domain includes a series of resuscitation and first aid methods. Very efficient ones.
Our current, safety above all attitude, would mandate for these methods to be taught first to every new student. Which doesn’t happen. Age old experience has demonstrated that ‘enthusiastic’ newcomers would hit/choke each-other far harder and take far less precautions when knowing that resuscitation is so readily available. This is why these powerful methods are taught only to the more experienced,  and self controlled, practitioners of the art.

Going back to the difference between heretics and nonbelievers, let me point out another less obvious thing.
Most of us are imprinted with a faith or another in our early childhood. Way before any of us was capable of thinking for their-selves. As a consequence, most of us are very relaxed towards something which is both very familiar and shared by most of those around us.

Until something happens, that is.
Something which contradicts our faith. Something which might force us to ‘stop the bike’. Which might cause us to fall. Or stop and reconsider.

And this is the real difference between heretics and nonbelievers.

As believers, we’ve always known about nonbelievers. That they’ll go straight to hell. There’s nothing unsettling for us about that. They are so different from us that, practically, they don’t count. We might bump into them on the street, we might even do business with them… but, in the end, they don’t count.
They cannot influence our ‘deep thinking’. The way we see the world.

Heretics are something totally different. They are people like us, who share most of our beliefs and who behave almost like us on most occasions.
If we don’t pay special attention, we might confuse them with ‘our own people’.
And by being so close to us, they constantly remind us that, maybe, it is us who are wrong. About that small thing which makes the difference between us and them.
I must add here that ‘fresh’ converts have the ‘worst of it’. They had already reconsidered their faith, reached a conclusion and are now under a more intense pressure to defend their ‘deliberate choice’. The ‘born again’ are in the very same situation, choosing to comeback to an erstwhile lost faith is no different from adopting a new one.

This pressure is unbearable. Having to nurse such a huge doubt is like a devil constantly whispering in our ear… A culprit must be found, blamed for the torment we had to endure and punished for their arrogance. For their audacity to exist. To constantly remind us that there are alternatives to what we’ve been led to believe.

And this is valid for all kind of faiths. The phenomenon is not restricted to the religious world.
People who had vaccinated their children actually hate those who had chosen not to.
Well, some of them… I’ll come back to this…
Atheists hate the faithful.
The progressives hate the conservatives and the conservatives respond in kind.
Those who believe the Earth is round hate and/or make fun of those who are convinced  the Earth is Flat… and so on…

In this situation, people might ask themselves ‘how come we hadn’t yet slit each other’s throats in sleep?’

‘well, some of them…’

The point being that, most of the times, the haters are a small minority. Most of the believers have either understood that the main tenet of all ‘faiths’ is ‘don’t harm anybody unnecessarily and respect all other human beings/opinions’ or actually have better things to do than to split hairs.

Which brings us to the present situation.
When various ‘con-artists’ have learned to inflame hate and to prod the haters to fight each-other.

Only both the haters and the rest of us – the silent majority who, until know, have been too lazy to intervene, have forgotten that ‘divide et impera’ had always ended up disastrously. Usually for those who allowed themselves to be divided and, quite often, for the ‘imperators’ themselves.

Both Alexander the Great and Cesar, two of the most acclaimed generals and political figures, had ended up both prematurely and in an undignified manner. After causing enormous suffering to both the conquerors and the conquered.
Let’s not forget that Greece had practically disappeared from the world stage after Alexander the Great and that Cesar had been the first – well, the second, of the long list of Roman dictators who had led the empire to its eventual demise.
This might have been a ‘natural’ occurrence. ‘Natural’ as in ‘then inevitable’.

But why repeat it, now that we’ve already learned how it invariably ends?