Monday, January 28, 2008
(8:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
On the old saw, "Love the sinner, hate the sin"The problem with this phrase, when used by conservative Christians, is not so much the underlying concept as the inane things that the conservative Christian has in mind by "sin." The idea expressed here is that sin is self-destructive, and therefore if you love the person, you will want them to stop. For instance, if my friend is a drug addict, I will hate that addiction because it is destructive to my friend -- i.e., I will hate it specifically because I love my friend.
Yet with most of the "sin" singled out by users of this phrase, the harmfulness is unclear at best. For instance, homosexuality as such does not appear to be any more harmful than heterosexuality as such. Harmful patterns of behavior are possible for people of both orientations, and if not for the relentless propaganda glamorizing certain pathologies among heterosexuals, homosexuality would likely appear to be the less harmful choice.
So in the absence of any visible harm, I guess we're to assume that the homosexual is being harmed by racking up negative points on his or her heavenly scorecard. The problem is that when one is attempting to save someone from a "sin" that consists of violating some ineffable arbitrary set of rules, it's hard to see that as a demonstration of how much one loves that person -- rather, it's a demonstration of how obsessed one is with the arbitrary rules. Hence the phrase typically rings hollow.
The solution, however, is not to jettison the phrase, nor to jettison the concept of sin. Instead, one should try to reclaim it. The underlying idea of this catchphrase is useful, if we think of sin in terms of destructive behavior.
For instance, if a close relative of mine joined the US military, I would view that as a sinful decision and would try to convince them to stop being in the military. Similarly, if a friend became a Scientologist, I would view that as a pretty self-destructive and stupid thing to do, and I would tell them so. Yet in neither case would I stop loving the person -- my care for them would manifest itself as hating their sin.
And in fact, I would even go so far as to say that obsession with arbitrary rules is harmful to people, undermining their relationships and cutting off avenues for enjoyment and personal growth. Thus our only possible response to the conservative Christians we know must be to love the sinner and hate the sin.