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Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin (pt 1): Hating Where We Ought to Hate

September 12, AD 2013 21 Comments

“There are things which rightfully we ought to fear, if we are to enjoy and dignity as men. When, in an age of smugness and softness, fear has been pushed temporarily into the dark corners of personality and society, then soon the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter return. To fear to commit evil, and to hate what is abominable, is the mark of manliness. “They will never love where they ought to love,” Burke says, “who do not hate where they ought to hate.” It may be added that they will never dare when they ought to dare, who do not fear when they ought to fear….

“Forgetting that there exists such a state as salutary dread, modern man has become spiritually foolhardy. His bravado, I suspect, will stand the test no better than ancient Pistol’s. He who admits no fear of God is really a post-Christian man; for at the heart of Judaism and Christianity lies a holy dread. And a good many people, outwardly and perhaps inwardly religious . . . today deny the reality of reverential fear, and thus are post-Christian without confessing it.” (Russell Kirk, The Rarity of the God-Fearing Man).

The tendency of the blogosphere in a simple GIF, which actually makes me feel a little sorry for the horse.

I no longer consider it particularly shocking when I hear of the defection of a prominent Republican leader [] to the cause of so-called “gay marriage” []. Similarly, I am not generally surprised to hear that yet another of my Christians friends—Catholic or Protestant—has come out in favor of “gay marriage.” And, of course, there is the recent spate of public defections following the article written by Joseph Bottum for Commonweal, which is, I suppose, the closest thing to a “Catholic case for gay marriage” that can exist []. Others have looked in-depth at Mr Bottum’s defection (or betrayal) and what it means for both sides, and it’s probably old enough news by now that adding column expressing frustration or outrage–or for that matter gratitudeencouragement, hope, or even just sadness and disappointmentwould feel like beating a dead horse.

There is, however, another issue which underlies some of these defections []. Many people, including many Christians in general (who should probably know better) and many Catholics in particular (who should definitely know better) consider our efforts against legal recognition of “gay marriage” to be a waste. This is certain, and it’s been stated. Less certain–but really not in much doubt in my mind–is that many consider the effort a waste because they want to see “gay marriage” become a reality, and not merely because they think the fight is using up political and moral capital which could be better spent elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” tends to be vague: it may be on the very important issues of fighting abortion, or the culture of death in general, or of poverty, or what-have-you. Anywhere else.

Like Mr Bottum, I have had a number of friends–and I do still consider them to be friends for now despite this–who have come out in favor of “gay marriage.” Literally, they want to see gay people getting married in the eyes of the state–and of everyone else. These are predominantly Catholic friends (that I know of), though only, I think, because I have more Catholic friends than anything else. And most of these friends have decided that they will go against Church teachings, despite being professing Catholics.

We read in the Gospel this past Sunday that “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).

The originator of lots of great phrases and sayings.

The originator of lots of great phrases and sayings.

It is from this passage that we may draw the phrase “love the sinner, [but] hate the sin” []. Now, to be fair, the common interpretation is that we must love God with such an all-consuming love that our love for anything else might seem “hateful” in comparison, and that when we find new life in Christ we must come to hate our old life without Him. Actually, these interpretations become one and the same: we must love God above all else, and then our neighbor (parent, sibling, friends, strangers, even enemies) as ourselves. But what does it really mean to “love”?

Many today mistake love as an emotion; others equate it with the willingness to do anything for the other person, to do whatever it takes to make that person content and satisfied, to make him “feel loved.” This second definition is nearer to the mark, in that it might require some sacrifice from the lover for the sake of the beloved, but notice that it still reduces love to an emotion only, albeit an emotional state on the part of the beloved and not the lover. Love is more than this, for to love a person is to desire the good of (or for) that person, and then to strive to help him to achieve it. Hence we say that the vocation of spouses is to help each other to become saints, for this is ultimately the good of a person, to become a saint, to live in heaven with God. The Baltimore Catechism puts it simply by stating that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven” (BC Q6).

So what does this love, which desires the greatest good and strives for real happiness, have to do with the “hatred” preached by Jesus in last Sunday’s gospel–or for that matter with the necessity of hate noted by Burke and quoted by Kirk? How, in other words, do we get to the necessity of hating the sin as a condition of loving the sinner?

Hatred, it should be noted, is not the opposite of love, but rather is in it proper context a condition of love. When we love somebody, we begin to hate what is harmful to that person. We begin to hate what is hateful in their sight. But what is it that harms a person? As Christians, we ought to know the answer to this: all three synoptic Gospels record the same saying of Christ’s that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul. And a soul is lost through sin, and through sin alone, for sin is the rejection of God, and thus also of God’s grace. Sin is the thing which destroys a soul, which ruins it and which, when unrepented, leads to separation from God, and thus from final happiness.

Therefore, if we love the sinner, and hence desire that which is good for him, we must hate his sins, which act only to deprive him of the good. If we love ourselves in accordance with the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39), we must hate our own sins for the same reason. Thus, when the LORD tells us that we must hate mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, and even our own lives to follow Him, we see that this should be read to mean that we must hate the sins of each of these people, as well as the temptation to excuse those sins (especially our own) as “harmless”, or as being somehow “normal” and thus in the final measure “acceptable.” They aren’t, and it is not an act of love to pretend that they are at the risk of endangering the sinner’s soul.

This brings me full-circle to the question of “gay marriage” and of leaving the Church, or (perhaps more commonly) at least of ignoring and even outright rejecting the Church’s teaching, namely that “gay is not o.k.” Now, again, here we look at the difference between the sins committed (e.g. attempting to simulate a sacrament, to say nothing of the lesser sins involved in a “romantic” homosexual relationship) and the actual sinner. As regards the sexual orientation, the Church states only that it is “disordered,” adding that those who struggle with same-sex attractions are deserving our our compassion: it is one more form of concupiscence, ever unique and ever common [].

Image text taken from "What's Wrong with the World."

Often, the Christian ideal has been found socially unacceptable; and left unpreached.

Yet compassion means first and foremost helping the other to rise above his sins, urging him to holiness and thus to real and lasting happiness. “Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” St Paul tells us (Galatians 6:2). The day may yet come when we lose the culture war, or at least the front of the culture war pertaining to “gay marriage.” That will be a sad day indeed (especially since a part of that loss will eventually involve the imposition of “gay marriages” on the churches), but saddest (in the end) for those who will then attempt to get “gay-married.” It is saddest for them, because they are the ones who will then enter into a legal institution whose purpose is to promote and celebrate a particular set of sins against which they must struggle. They are the ones who are ultimately told to forget about their sins, and to cease the struggle in favor of embracing those sins as “who they are.”

Loving the sinner is absolutely necessary. But we cannot really love a person if we do not at the same time hate their sins. Nor, it seems to me, do we love God first when we celebrate sins, or tolerate them any more than is necessary for the sake of that kindness which is required by charity. This certainly becomes the more difficult for us when our friends identify with their particular sins, for pride is the deadliest of sins, the one thing necessary for making a sin unforgivable []. When our friends so identify with their sins, loving God (and even loving them) will appear hateful to them, so that it will really seem as if we hate family, friends, and even ourselves for His sake. We may therefore be tempted to turn aside from following Christ fully out of a sense of sympathy for our loved ones who identify themselves so strongly with their sins. This misguided sympathy is not, however, a good reason to waver in our faith or our fight, lest we become “unworthy” of Christ.



[] The Democrats are less surprising still. They first filibustered and then voted en masse against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman—and this in the year 2004, when similar amendments passed in 13 out of 13 states in which they were introduced that year, and in all previous state elections.

[] “Gay marriage” is probably the most common term used, but I’ve also heard it called (by supporters): “homosexual marriage,” “queer marriage,” “marriage equality,” and of course “same-sex marriage” (SSM). I will refer to it as “gay marriage.”

[] This is not to claim that he has actually taken the step of breaking with the Church doctrinally on the question of marriage. He has stated that this was never his intention, though his article might be a source of confusion and unintended scandal nevertheless. For what it is worth, a very charitable reading of his article might suggest that he is proposing something similar to both Monsignor Charles Pope and Fr. Dwight Longenecker: neither of whom drew quite the same kind of reaction even from those of us who disagreed with them. This proposal is essentially the separation of civil “marriage” from sacramental “Holy Matrimony.” Perhaps it is the style, perhaps the length, perhaps the tone; or maybe Longenecker and Pope are just more clear in their writing and convey hope rather than despair in their posts.

[] Not just the defections, though. There are some people who have had a “change of heart” as it were on this issue. Others still have long since been privately in favor of “gay marriage” but publicly against it while looking for a reason to come out and switch public sides. Ironically, some of these will eventually use the “personally against, but politically in favor of” line which is (or was) popular in a different debate.

[] Of course, the phrase itself perhaps originates with Saint Augustine.

[] Henri Cardinal de Lubac states in his Paradoxes of the Faith that “All suffering is unique–and all suffering is common. I have to be reminded of the latter truth when i am suffering myself–and of the former truth when I see others suffering.” I think that much the same might be said of temptations to sin.

[] Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin, but it comes in 6 varieties. It seems to me that each of these varieties can be paired with another of the capital sins, but all six also point back to pride. For what it is worth, my pairing is: envy with envy of another’s spiritual well-being, avarice with impugning a known truth, sloth with presumption, wrath with obstinacy in sin, gluttony with despair, and lust with final impenitence. The last of these is the only real stretch, and it’s less of a stretch when one realizes that the daughters of lust include blindness of mind, hatred of God, love of the world, and abhorrence/despair of a future world.

About the Author:

JC is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 2014. He is currently a tenure-track assistant professor of physics at a university in the deep south. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers. JC has been happily married since June of 2010. He and his lovely wife have had two children born into their family, one daughter and one son; they hope to have a few more. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but he has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?”