As Jim Adkisson awaits trial on first-degree murder charges in Knoxville, Tenn., from rampage in the liberal Unitarian Universalist church last month, many of us struggle to understand where that hatred comes from.

The truth is, it comes from liberals and conservatives. It’s contagious. People don’t get that way by themselves.

Hate comes as an individual thought. Then, it’s whispered in the ear of another. Sometimes, the whisper is rebuffed by the brave, and hate thankfully dies.

But more often than not, people ignore the whisper of hate, which is where we get our word “ignore-ance.” Ignorance and apathy provide virulent places for hate to grow. And when the whisper of hate is ignored or only half rebuffed, it sprouts a love-resistant strain, the strain that infects people like Adkisson.

Most of us are immune from the infectious strand carried by the likes of Adkisson or David Koresh. But there are subtle forms of infection just as there are more seemingly innocuous carriers.

In the world of religion, I’ve yet to see more infectious carriers than I’ve seen in the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. These evangelical atheists would have you believe that all our problems stem from all forms of religious faith.

In his Dec. 3, 2006, New York Times op-ed piece, columnist Nicholas Kristof pleads for a “Truce on Religion.”

Criticizing what he calls “an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive,” he identifies Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” as leading the “Charge of the Atheist Brigade.”

“It’s a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism . . .,” he writes. “Such discrimination on the basis of (non) belief is insidious and intolerant, and undermines our ability to have far-reaching discussions about faith and politics.”

Dawkins encourages his readers to imagine a world without 9-11, Crusades, witch hunts, Israeli/Palestinian wars, Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, Northern Ireland “troubles,” “honor killings” or “shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.”

Kristof asks you to imagine a world without the infamous atheistic leadership of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.

Thankfully, Kristof, a world traveler, sees another side.

“Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals . . . churches support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist. Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and Darfur’s genocide, and believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.”

Kristof concludes, “We’ve suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.”

Amen, Kristof. We can’t allow intolerance of either kind. We must allow room for the conversation.

Fortunately, I have friends and readers who are the kind of atheists who put the human in “humanist.” When I ask them what they want from the faithful, they tell me two things. First, they are tired of people making the assumption that an atheist can’t possibly be a moral, upstanding, civic-minded person and not believe in God.

But mostly they tell me what I hear from nearly everyone.

“I want a conversation in which you aren’t trying to make me think like you. I just need you to respect me. Respecting me will help me feel a lot better about respecting you.”

At the end of the day, no one wants to be blasted for their faith or lack of it.

So, whether you’re born again or atheist, liberal or conservative, don’t give ear to the hate whisperer. For when you choose that level of hate, you will give room to the Jim Adkissons of the world and likely become a casualty yourself.