Hate the Sinner?

Recently, a 14-year-old in Iowa confronted Rick Perry on his DADT stance. She asked, quite pointedly, how he could defame gay people in the military who fought and died so that he would have the right to run for president. She revealed in interviews later that she is openly bi-sexual. At 14. In Iowa. This is not only a very smart and articulate young woman, but also an incredibly brave one.

Perry, who is not nearly as smart, articulate, or brave (though there are enough suspicions about whether he and Marcus Bachmann might attend meetings together for self-hating closet cases), fell back on a string of cliches and hid behind his faith.

“Here’s my issue. This is about my faith, and I happen to think, you know, there are a whole hosts of sins. Homosexuality being one of them, and I’m a sinner and so I’m not going to be the first one to throw a stone,” Perry said. “I don’t agree that openly gays [sic] should be serving in the military. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was working and my position is just like I told a guy yesterday, he said, ‘How would you feel if one of your children was [sic] gay?’ I said I’d feel the same way. I hate the sin, but I love the sinner, but having them openly serve in the military, I happen to think as a commander in chief of some 20,000 plus people in the military is not good public policy, and this president was forced by his base to change that policy and I don’t think it was good policy, and I don’t think people in the military thought it was good policy.”

Alright, so let’s forget for a second that there are 1,477,896 active duty members of the military and 1,458,500 reserve personnel. I mean, he’s technically correct in the same way that he would be correct had he said he would be in charge of “more than a dozen people in the military” or, as Douglas Adams so well put it, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Even given the remarkable gift of the Syrup Cuddler for understatement, there are two really worrisome things in this statement. And I think you, my handful of loyal readers, already know what they are.

The first, “This is about my faith…” Alright, stop right there. You’re telling me that if you are elected to the office of the president, your faith gets to trump all available evidence re:national security and military strength? Now, he does go on to say that DADT was working, but like his faith that there’s a God who thinks gay people are choosing to defy His otherwise perfect creation, he’s demonstrably wrong. Even more wrong, in fact, as the nature of God makes proof or disproof impossible and we have actual, tangible evidence that DADT was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. Mr. Perry’s faith is his to have, and he can believe whatever idiotic thing he wants, but the sad thing here is two-fold: both that he wants to use that belief in defiance of reality and that he’s not entirely wrong in gambling that a whole lot of people will vote for him because of that.

It’s hard to really say if that’s a determining factor since the nature of GOP orthodoxy is such that every candidate is expected to measure themselves against a wall and there is very little daylight between them and the most extreme members of their party, providing a very flat baseline. In other words, if Rick Perry were the only candidate in this race that believed that, we could see if his idiotic beliefs were swaying voters, but since every candidate has to reach a certain quota of insane beliefs and ideals (100% of them, in fact), then there is no control sample. All of the candidates fall over one another to demonstrate how much they understand that God wants them to deny gay people rights, so primary voters don’t actually have to make a choice to still get their dose of homophobia (and magical thinking, Islamophobia, immigrant hatred, family values hypocrisy, etc.) and it throws off analysis of what messages are actually resonating.

The other objectionable part of his rambling dodge (side note: The Rambling Dodge would be a great name for a rock band) was his resurrection of the old “hate the sin, love the sinner” canard.

The question, of course, is “Is this possible?” Short answer: no.

Long Answer:

In order to understand this little bit of theological ju-jitsu, you must first understand that people want to consider themselves good. They also want other people to consider them good. This goes doubly for Christians and infinitely more than that in direct proportion to how loudly they proclaim that faith. So, the average person likes being good, the average Christian has the added inducement to be Christ-like on top of just normal good (pretty high standard, according to the story, I’ll grant), and you go all the way up to Tim Tebow who wants to be good so bad that he’s actually convinced himself that throwing less than half of his passes to completion is awesome and ostentatiously prays between bites at dinner.

The other thing to understand is that being good is hard. It is so much easier to claim to love everybody and continue to hate them to yourself than to actually love everybody. I would argue, in fact, that actually loving everybody is a bad idea, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

So, you have a bunch of Christianists like Perry who believe they must love every person, but also believe that they are squigged out by gays, afraid of Muslims, not happy that they have to study the science thing, and totally convinced that God Loves Them Best. That, my friends, is a recipe for trouble, and thus was born “love the sinner, hate the sin,” a piece of vile dishonesty and rank hypocrisy that allows people to convince themselves that they’re doing what Jesus wants while still doing what makes them comfortable.

In Perry’s (and every other GOP official other than Fred Karger and…there’s at least one more, I think) case, he claims to love the sinner (gays) and hate the sin, but what does that actually mean? We, as humans, experience love. It’s not a measurable thing, so we tend to describe love as a reflection of actions. The same way that we can tell a massive object is in space when we might not be able to see it by seeing the way gravity affects things around it, we can see love in the actions of people toward other people.

So, is it loving to deny rights to people? Categorically not. Unilateral denial of basic human rights afforded to others for no other reason than your particular invisible man said in his confusing and contradictory book that they weren’t in accord with his vision is not an act of love. The question must then be: in what way is the sinner being loved in this scenario?

This is similar to Jules Manson’s claim that he isn’t a racist. Just saying something doesn’t actually make it true, and actions are generally good indicators of emotional realities.

The fact of the matter is, you cannot both love the sinner and hate the sin. Love is something that has to be manifested, expressed, in order for it to have meaning and sincerity. Without that manifestation, it is nothing but potential, an empty promise with an implied, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” It changes love into a salve for those who are too cowardly to admit that there are some things they don’t like for no good reason. They want to be good and, failing that, be thought of as good when the truth is that they irrationally hate various people and don’t want to suffer the social backlash for it.

Moreover, the entire concept is astoundingly condescending. Anybody who “hates the sin but loves the sinner” is basically saying, “I know you don’t know what you’re doing is wrong, but it’s ok, I’m willing to overlook your stupidity.” What sort of self-righteous bullshit is that? You think I’m doing bad things, but you don’t hold them against me because you inexplicably “love” me? If you’re doing terrible things, especially if I don’t know you, I’m not going to love you like some mentally retarded younger cousin who doesn’t know any better. This idea that you somehow know better and barely tolerate my wicked ways severely degrades the very concept of “love,” and that is something up with which I will not put.

So, what’s the solution? The most obvious one is simply, “Don’t be a dick.” You can solve that second problem by attempting to be inclusive, getting over your idiot notions, and weighing things in a way that makes sense.

The issue still comes in with how one can love everybody and still not particularly like certain people or, often, “what they do.” However, the answer to that one is just as easy: stop claiming to love everybody. You can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it. Nobody should feel obligated to love Kim Jong Il, and the world should rejoice in his death. He’s a murderous, oppressive dictator, a monster who starved his people to maintain his bloated army and to glorify himself. We should hate that man. Nobody should feel obligated to love Rick Santorum, or Michelle Bachmann, or Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul, or even Mr. Perry. Especially not Newt Gingrinch. Hell, nobody should feel obligated to love me and while I’m fortunate that many people do, it’s because I give them a reason to.

But please, don’t tell me you love me despite my being queer. Or poly. Or kinky. Or anything else I am that composes the great and gorgeous tapestry that is me. I don’t want your prayers for me to somehow be more in line with your vision of things and I don’t want your condescending tolerance. I want you to be honest that you don’t like things about me, be honest about the reasons, and if there are none, be honest that you have no reasons and accept the consequences that come with disliking somebody irrationally.

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10 thoughts on “Hate the Sinner?

  1. I will say that I think it’s theoretically possible to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s a combination of three things: 1) you know that thing where you love your friends, even though they occasionally do really irritating or boneheaded things that drive you up the wall? That; 2) the ability to admit that you don’t always know everything (it’s not the same as admitting you’re wrong, but it’s still not an easy thing to do), and 3) the ability to mind your own damn business. (Alternately, the ability to respect other people.)

    Let me give an example, working off the OTHER hot-button topic. I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but I do not like abortion. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I’m agin’ it. I don’t think it’s a good thing, I think it’s a patently BAD thing, and I wish that people would never have them unless it was a life or death emergency.

    And yet. Politically, I’m pro-choice. I sign pro-choice petitions, I vote for pro-choice politicians, and while I rarely have enough money to put some where my mouth is, if I donated to causes often I’d probably donate to pro-choice causes. I have friends who have had or considered abortions, and while I’m not thrilled with the idea, it doesn’t make me not love them and I would never give them crap about it. (not least because – why on earth would you be nasty about it after the fact? What are they gonna do, jump in a time machine and undo it?)

    Why is this? Well, for starters, because I know I don’t know everything. I can’t think of a single instance (save, again, life-or-death) where I would consider an abortion to be justified for me, in my life. I cannot put myself into the shoes of someone choosing to have an abortion; it’s an alien decision for me. But I am not everyone. There may be – probably are – situations out there that I literally can’t imagine. It would be incredibly arrogant of me to assume that something that holds true for me will hold true for every woman out there, because there is some shit that goes on that I just do not understand and, hopefully, will never have to experience. So if I don’t want to be a dick, I pretty much have to support the idea that women are allowed to make the choices that are right for them – and that they’re better suited to determine that than I am.

    Another reason is that it is none of my goddamn business. Look, if someone comes up to you and seriously asks for your opinion or counsel, then yeah, of course, tell them what you believe or feel. Heck, there may even be some relationships where you’re close enough to get away with offering that kind of advice without being asked. But in general, other people’s decisions are their decisions. In fact, even if they ask for your advice, it’s their decision in the end, and you kinda have to respect that – and mind your own damn business. I can’t think of a single instance where I would be even sorta justified just coming up and – apropos of nothing – telling someone what they should do with their body. (Or their sex life, for that matter.) No matter how right I think I am or how wrong I think you are, that’s just never an ok thing to do. (Also? On any topic as widely discussed as abortion OR homosexuality, you can pretty much assume that anyone who’s survived to adulthood is at least passing familiar with the basic arguments. If they want to hear more, or discuss them in more detail, trust me, they’ll ask. If they don’t, I promise you, it’s not because they have no clue that someone, somewhere might disagree with them.)

    And finally… because one decision, even one I personally dislike, is not the be-all and end-all of a person. Just like certain personality traits, even though they may be annoying, aren’t the whole of the personality. Nowhere is it written that you have to 100% love everything about your friends, family, etc., but when faced with something you don’t like about someone you do like, you have to make a choice – you can accept them and love them regardless, or you can end the relationship. (Which is always an option, but at that point you can’t really claim to “love” them.)

    So basically, if an evangelical Christian were to support gay rights and fight to end discrimination and bullying, and could hang out with gay people and accept them for who they are and refrain from bugging them about their orientation, even though they still believed homosexuality was immoral, I’d start believing them a lot more when they say they love the sinner but hate the sin. Until then, no. Stop saying it. You’re lying.

  2. I think the problem I’m finding here is that I put a lot of weight on the terms “love” and “hate.” I don’t think it’s possible to love somebody whom you’re also working against the rights of, which I think is part of where you’re going with this. I think when you’re talking in this way, you’re not so much talking about love and hate so much as the phrase as a very complex way of saying, “sometimes I disagree with my friends.”

    And friends should be able to disagree. You can even say that you love your friends. But it’s difficult to claim that you love your friends while considering them second class citizens, such as Perry does in this case. That’s also why Rick Santorum’s contention that he has several gay friends is so laughable. How can anybody claim to be friends with somebody while still thinking that when they have sex, it’s basically the same thing as bestiality (related: sounds like a Megyn Kelly line)?

    For example: I adore you. You’re absolutely amazing in so many ways. If tomorrow I found out that you’re an ax murderer, I’m sorry, but I would no longer feel that love. I would absolutely, I think rightly, hate you. It’s nothing personal, but I feel absolutely zero love for ax murderers. That you would have convinced me for years that you were a wonderful human being until that time would only increase the amount of hatred I would feel. I know, it’s an extreme example, but not that far off from the people in the abortion debate who simultaneously claim that abortion providers are mass murderers but still say they love those people. As you so succinctly pointed out, they’re lying. And it’s a rather pernicious lie at that, since our primary measure of love is in how it’s expressed, and the expression of “love” in these people doesn’t fit with any definition of love that still retains any meaning.

    So I can see your point, people can disagree, but I don’t think that really falls into the love/hate dynamic without seriously reducing the meaning of both of those words. If somebody feels strongly enough about a subject to “hate” it, then it’s really hard to also claim to love the person who is acting on it.

    On a related note, I agree with you on abortion. I think most people do, in fact. Nobody likes abortion, or necessarily thinks it should be done lightly. I think that’s really the pro-choice message: we don’t necessarily *want* you doing this, but it’s not anybody else’s right to make that decision for you. Bill Clinton described it on June 7, 1997 in a speech when he said, “Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare.” That seems to be your opinion on it as well, and while I could go on for a whole other post (which I may in the future) on this topic and ways to achieve that, I think you’re in basically the same place as the pro-choice movement.

  3. Point on poison.

    As to Fred’s take, I like it, but I think it further supports my point above. In practice it’s not loving to block the rights of people you disagree with, so even Paul’s somewhat lower standard is not met by so many people who claim to both love the sinner and hate the sin. They can’t even do it in practice, yet they claim to actually, truly, and meaningfully love absolutely everybody. It’s an absolutely untenable position, and it ignores that some people really deserve our ire.

    • *nods* And I think that’s the main point I was trying to make – it’s absolutely possible to do, but it does not mean what a lot of people who claim to do it think it means.

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