To some people, that will be an obvious observation; and to others, a hideous lie. Still, it shows up so often that it needs saying. The concept of hating the sin but loving the sinner is a duplicitous crock, a sort of polite doublespeak intended to rationalize and sanitize hateful behavior. It's a transparent endeavor, and yet one that has, surprisingly, remained popular among the religious. Many people say, and some genuinely believe, this tripe. But what truth is there – can there be – to it?
Consider it's application today: largely in relation to gay rights. It shows up now and again with some of the religious right's pet topics, but it's rare to hear people speak of, say, women who've attained, or women and men support women's access to, abortions as being “loved” though the “sin” of abortion is hated. More often that not, terms like “murderer” and “demon” get tossed around. As to the particular reason that the pretense of love can be mustered in relation to some “sins” but not others, I'm not going to speculate here. I will simply use as my primary example gay rights (and, according to some, the mere existence of gay people).
We often hear from anti-gay Christians that they don't hate gay people, but rather love them; it's just the gayness they hate, not the gay. In fact, these Christians love gays so much that they want to rescue them from gayness. As far as this line of reasoning, if it can rightly be called thus, goes, it's possible to deconstruct the entire bit of nonsense with but a single comparison. How would Christians react if someone suggested a similar viewpoint for something like, I donno, Christianity? If holding a belief in the “wrong” faith (a choice, if ever there was one) was the thing to be hated and penalized, if the situation was applied in that context, how would that look?
It's not Christians whom I hate; I love Christians and I want what's best for them. It's just that abomination, the filthy Christian lifestyle, and their disgusting beliefs that I hate. As a matter of fact, I love Christians so much that I want them to renounce and repent their faith to be saved, because if they don't, if they continue to believe in their God and wallow in the filth of their lifestyle, they will surely be (and deserve to be) tortured for all eternity.I also don't want Christians to be able to marry, adopt or have children, collect benefits for their partners, be teachers, boyscout leaders, or have any contact with children. In fact, I don't think it's healthy to have openly Christian people “out” in society at all. I think that it should be legal to fire Christians because of their faith, and any attempts to punish hate crimes against Christians are clearly just an attempt to push the filthy, Satanic Christian agenda.But, you know, I love you guys. It's just your sins that I can't stand.
That would ring astonishingly hollow as far as “love” goes to most Christians (and everyone else). Consider for a moment that simply asking that Christian belief not be privileged in the public arena gives some of the good folks at Fox an apoplexy. Heads would explode over there if someone, much less a terrific number of someones, tried to reinforce through law such thought. Step aside, War on Christmas; move over, War on School Prayer; this would be the real deal, and the horror of it all would never end. Of course, the same folks who would screech the loudest about such a “loving” view of Christianity are only too eager to give a platform of promotion to the various facets of this “love” for LGBT folk. (I have it on good authority that their hypocrisy sensors died in shame many eons ago.)
But those attempts to do hateful things while shrugging of charges of being hateful are as transparent when directed against minorities as they would be if directed against majorities. It's a comforting thought, perhaps, that you can you love people and yet still persecute, penalize, ostracize and denounce them as unfit, untrustworthy, immoral, hateful, malicious, dangerous and reprehensible, at least if the mantra of your religion is “forgiveness” and “love”; but it's an absurd one with very few, scattered applications in other facets of life. Where is the advocacy for loving pedophiles but hating pedophilia, for loving murderers but hating murder, for loving Assad but hating chemical warfare? Where is the cry to love tax cheaters but hate tax fraud, to love wall street execs but hate financial ruin (OK, the GOP being the 'exception to the rule' in this instance)? I think it fair to suggest that it is not generally characteristic of human nature to simultaneously hate some significant, defining characteristic of a group, and yet retain love for them, particularly as we lose connection to that group. It may be easier to love a brother who we recognize as an arrogant schmuck, but harder to love arrogant schmucks in general; it may be possible to love a gay relative despite religious intolerance of homosexuality, but harder to do so when the intolerance is strong and there is no close connection to gay people (see: Rob Portman). Certainly, there are exceptions in every which way (there are people with no apparent connection to it who would like to see pedophilia decriminalized, folks who refuse to “tolerate” homosexuality even after learning that a loved one is gay, people who love wall street bankers but have no ties to the Republican party, etc.). But human history provides a pretty good study of what we human beings tend to do to one another, and what feelings manifest, when there's something we don't like – hate – about one another.; and it's almost never loving. There wasn't any love to be found when Catholics hated protestantism, or protestants hated Catholicism, or Christians hated Islam, or Muslims hated Christianity, or Americans hated immigrants being Irish (or Italian, Chinese, etc.), or Nazis hated people being Jewish, gay, handicapped, etc. The list could stretch forever, but it felt right to leave it on a Godwin's note. The point is, we people don't treat each other well when we don't like something about each other. We tend to be particularly nasty when we particularly don't like each other. That's the opposite of love. Which is what makes the whole notion of “loving the sinner but hating the sin” such a crock.
Now, it might be nice to pretend that the hate you're spewing isn't aimed at people, just ideas; it might be nice to act like the hateful things you do don't have a real world impact on people; it might be a good way to convince gullible people in your congregation that you're not simply flouting all that “love noise” in order to further your own bigotries; it might be easy to go with the status quo, to hold onto the ideas that you grew up with without ever questioning them, “because God”, while excusing any liability for the harm they do because they're not harmful at all, just a manifestation of love (which sounds a lot like a rationalization an abuser might make...). I'm sure there are even people who genuinely believe that they do love gay people, along with everyone who knows damned well that they despise and fear them, but don't want to say it out loud because, somehow, it doesn't sound very nice when expressed honestly. But none of it holds up to scrutiny. Telling gay people (or anyone else) that you love them and want what's best for them, but they're vile, damned perverts, a danger to society, predators and frightening meanies who are deliberately making a choice to be gay (or anything else) and therefore do not deserve basic human rights is ludicrous. It's damned near as unloving as you can get without reverting to medieval tactics. And it's markedly, absurdly, cringe-worthily duplicitous.
So let's drop the pretenses. You're not loving gay people as you actively seek to humiliate, punish, ostracize and legally persecute them, any more than Jim Crow laws were manifestations of love for African Americans. You're simply trying to make your hate a little more palatable to modern listeners. And it's not working.