Hate the sin, love the sinner?


#1

We hear this phrase quite a bit in the religious world. But what exactly does it mean? No, I don’t mean the actual literal meaning, that is obvious. But how do we separate them in our brain? Seriously do you ever think of this? Some condemn the sin a good deal and yet claim it never ever seeps into how they feel about the person. How can this be really?

Ever heard a parent at the sentencing of someone who murdered their loved one? Ever heard this? “My faith says I must forgive you and so I do, but I will never forgive what you did.” As if this makes sense?

If you hate the sin but love the sinner do you tell the sinner this? Do you not deliberately hurt the person by doing so? Is that loving? Have you ever contemplated what it would feel like if someone told you, I hate what you do, but of course I still love you. Would it make you feel loved or respected or accepted? I would think not. How do you reconcile this with what some claim is a directive to “correct” the sinner? Who’s duty is this? Can we assume the person knows what you think already? How many Catholics need to tell a sinner their behavior is wrong before no one else needs to?

How do we reconcile our feelings? How do we speak to the sinner? I have no answers that I think are correct, but I have opinions. I’m curious if anyone else see’s this as difficult.


#2

I’m with C. S. Lewis on this - To say “I forgive you as a Christian” is in effect not to forgive at all (though that distinction may be different from the one in the heading of the thread).

I also dislike calling people sinners, as though they formed a distinct group - AFAICS, one of the basic Christian insights is that every single person on earth is a sinner; so to call others “sinners”, as though this distinguished them from oneself or others, merely builds up the very self-righteousness which cuts one off from God & man alike. This particular tendency was one of the weaknesses in Judaism in the time of Christ, & the last thing we need in us is the very evil which is opposed to the humility & self-giving of Christ.

The whole point of Christ’s coming to us is that God humbles Himself down into our shared sinfulness & deadliness, & partakes in it fully, is baptised into our death as it were, without being corrupted by it or us; so that from within our deadliness He makes the way back to His Father - that is how creative God is: He takes the filthiness at work in all of us, & subjects it entirely to Himself by suffering the worst that it that can do to Him. And that tendency to separate oneself from those who are quite likely no worse than oneself, whom one calls “sinners”, is a denial of what He does for us. So I think this distinction is an empty one - & unChristian at its core.


#3

I don’t think “love the sinner, hate the sin” is as it’s presented here.

Do we love a child by condoning the things he does wrong. No, I love my child, but I let him know what is acceptable and what is not.

With my friends, if they drink too heavily, to I love them and accept their drinking? Or do I love them, but try to convince them that drinking is hurting them spiritually and physically.

If we love someone, and we can have an influence on them, we owe it to them and to ourselves to let them know this.

In the instance of the parent of a murdered child, to say anything less than “I forgive you” is incomplete, as you stated. But we need to try to forgive this individual act (for we are sinners) while condemning the general act in itself.

For example, we should forgive the repentance abortionist, while condemning abortion.


#4

I don’t think that “hate the sin, love the sinner” makes any sense.
I just think its the wrong word and that this phrase is used to justify all kinds of bad emotional responses and discrimination. I think that when the word “hate” is used in reference to sin its supposed to refer to a calm yet committed setting of your mind against embracing sin and recognizing its bad effect. It is supposed to apply to you and your life, more than to others and their lives.

But so many apply this saying in a judgmental context. They think it means that they can judge others, instead of meaning the opposite. You can tell this by the way it is used. It is applied a lot to homosexuals, sometime to divorcees, also to adulterers, drug users, etc. Only the outcast get this label very often. When have you heard it applied to the uncharitable, the rude, the inconsiderate driver? Its reserved for those we don’t like And the “beloved sinners” this is applied to aren’t feeling particularly loved in practice.

Let me offer a hypothetical dialogue applying this same principle to “regular” people to illustrate my point.

Righteous One – "Hi, nice to meet you, what do you do?"
Beloved Sinner – "I am a nurse, and a mother."
RO – "Oh, a nurse? Hmmm…"
BS – "What?"
RO – "Well, nursing is sinful, you know. I mean I LOVE nurses, but nursing is just wrong. And mothering? You’re not MARRIED are you?"
BS – "Yes, of course."
RO – “Marriage and marrying are the work of the devil. They are part of Satan’s plan to destroy the world. I still love, you, of course, but the very essence of your being is slowly killing all of us. No offense.“
BS --”??? This is Christian love? I guess Christianity is not for me after all.”

Insert gay, or gay marriage, or even Mormon or Jew in place of nurse, mother, and marriage, and you’ll get some idea how the real people react to being “beloved” in this way.


#5

Do you believe that all such discussions of particular “hot button issues” is therefore invalid because it by definition establishes a Us -them dicotomy? I’m trying to imagine what it would feel like to enter a forum being a purple person…and seeing a thread “purple people? should we offer therapy?” I’m already something designated as Other before the conversation even begins… This is most troubling to me.


#6

We should…the question is do we in fact? I say we mostly do not.


#7

This was my concern. It seems to be only used for groups of folks who are already “suspect” …Nobody talks about someone who habitually misses mass once a month as a someone who’s sin I hate but I love her…It’s reserved for Other.

Albeit Catholics are gentler…lol…A good old fundievangelical just tells you “You soul is going to Hell and you will burn for all eternity if you don’t change your ways!” HEHE.


#8

If we are Christians, then we should. If we do not, it is our weakness in receiving His Message? Didn’t Jesus forgive those who were taunting Him, even as He was on the Cross? Doesn’t He ask the same of us.


#9

I think the phrase in itself is good but when it is put into action it becomes judgemental as you have said. I think we need to learn to have mercy on people. Forgive those who have offended you and if they are doing evil then pray for them. Lead largely by example and love. I think that a person can be redeemed much easier through love than through judgement.


#10

Here’s what the great Christian philosopher and apologist CS Lewis has to say on the topic:

from Mere Christianity:
"Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life - namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again."


#11

I believe the original post in this thread sets up a series of false dichotomies because it approaches the question primarily in the dimension of feelings. The moral value of our responses to sin, whether in others or ourselves, is a matter of intellect and will. Feelings are secondary to the question.

Love, as an act of will, desires the greatest good for the beloved. This is something we can accomplish regardless of our feelings. Hatred of sin is a properly ordered reaction of the irascible appetite. If particular sorts of sin engender a less than warm and fuzzy feeling toward the perpetrators, it is perhaps a matter for reflection but it is no obstacle to love.

JSA+


#12

Agreed. There is a prevailing confusion among many Catholics that feelings trump all. And is it really the feelings of others that causes the concern or do we worry more about what others will think of us? Do I care if I hurt the feelings of those I love? Yes. But I care more about where they and their “feelings” will end up if they persist in sinful behaviors. Our goal is to help eachother get to heaven. This is even more urgent with those we love. I want us all to be together for eternity, not just the measly 70 or 80 years we have on earth.

True Christian love, IMO, couldn’t possibly include hatred of the person. It is the greatest sinner that deserves our deepest compassion and prayer. The possiblity that their souls may be lost should cause any Christian to mourn and feel sorrow. The evil demands the response of hatred - the person does not.


#13

I agree with this “feelings” vs. “will” or “intellect” idea only up to a point. I don’t agree that we don’t control our feelings (if that is part of the point) even if that control is imperfect or difficult. I certainly don’t agree that feelings, whether ours or our neighbors, are secondary to the issue of Christian love. When Christ said to love one another I don’t think He meant “Its OK to feel animosity towards one another, but understand intellectually that you want what’s good for that person.” I think He meant what He said. We are to love one another BOTH in an intellectual ‘want what’s good for you’ way AND in a fuzzy warm sentimental way.

Christ described the love we are to have two ways. He said we should love one another as we love ourselves, and He said we should love one another as He loves us. Both of these are strong and emotional loves, full of feelings. Paul said that the entire law is contained in and accomplished through love for each other. He did not speak of this love as an intellectual construct, but as a thing of kindness and gentleness. Divorcing taking proper actions and having proper attitudes toward one another, or even wishing what is right and good for each other, from a true emotional feeling of love leads to the pharisaic error.

So, while I agree that Christian love is a matter of intellect and will, I think we are called to do more than that. We are called to feel real emotional “feelings” of love for everyone. Christian love is not limited to compassion for the poor sinner. Pity is not love. Compassion accompanies love, but is not love. We are called to love one another with the same love we feel toward our blood brothers, our parents, our best friends, with all the fuzzy feelings that entails.


#14

I agree with this “feelings” vs. “will” or “intellect” idea only up to a point.

I am not pitting one against the other. Nor am I arguing from the position of “intellect” vs. “feelings”. True Christian love does not DEPEND on warm fuzzies for it’s strength. If that were the case, mothers and fathers would boot their small children out of the house when they throw temper tantrums. Couples would quickly divorce when the blush of romance fades (which is what we see now).

I don’t agree that we don’t control our feelings (if that is part of the point) even if that control is imperfect or difficult.

It’s not. I never said we don’t control our feelings. In our current cultural climate, I would say we don’t have ENOUGH control over our feelings and that “warm fuzzies” are elevated as the litmus test for how we define love.

I certainly don’t agree that feelings, whether ours or our neighbors, are secondary to the issue of Christian love.

Really? See above. If your assertion is correct and feelings reign over our obligation as Christians to love everyone, even our enemies, than the human race is in trouble. I know how difficult it is for me to “feel” love for my son when he flaunts his sins as virtuous and insults both me and God. As a Christian, we are called to rise above our temporal feelings into a deeper, more profound understanding of love. How much love do you think Christ actually “felt” for the Roman soldiers who whipped Him?

When Christ said to love one another I don’t think He meant “Its OK to feel animosity towards one another, but understand intellectually that you want what’s good for that person.” I think He meant what He said. We are to love one another BOTH in an intellectual ‘want what’s good for you’ way AND in a fuzzy warm sentimental way.

No. Christ did not say FEEL love for one another. He said LOVE one another, even your enemies.

Christ described the love we are to have two ways. He said we should love one another as we love ourselves, and He said we should love one another as He loves us. Both of these are strong and emotional loves, full of feelings. Paul said that the entire law is contained in and accomplished through love for each other. He did not speak of this love as an intellectual construct, but as a thing of kindness and gentleness. Divorcing taking proper actions and having proper attitudes toward one another, or even wishing what is right and good for each other, from a true emotional feeling of love leads to the pharisaic error.

You really are missing my point. Feelings are relative. True Christian love does not rely on the way we feel to exist. Christ loved the Samaritan woman at the well by rebuking her in her sinful lifestyle. He probably “felt” more love for His apostles that anyone else yet He rebuked them for falling asleep in the Garden. I doubt He was “feeling” kindly toward them at that moment. There are countless examples in Scripture of Christ’s love that transcends what we would call “feelings”.

So, while I agree that Christian love is a matter of intellect and will, I think we are called to do more than that. We are called to feel real emotional “feelings” of love for everyone.

We are not called to FEEL love by God. Let’s not add words or meanings to our obligations as Christians simply because our modern society doesn’t grasp the profundity of our vocation.

Christian love is not limited to compassion for the poor sinner. Pity is not love.

And pity is not compassion. They are two very separate and distinct emotions.

Compassion accompanies love, but is not love. We are called to love one another with the same love we feel toward our blood brothers, our parents, our best friends, with all the fuzzy feelings that entails.

And compassion is a great motivator. Pity is not. Compassion, driven by love, is what provokes the outpouring of generosity that we see when our brothers and sisters experience crisis (Katrina, Tsunami, etc).

If I depended on “warm fuzzies”, I would have ceased involvement with all those folks you mentioned above. We are not called to “feel” love. We are called TO love.


#15

I agree, leading by example is much more productive than telling people how to behave. Perhaps the better solution is to hate the sin as an independent wrong, and remove it from the context of the “sinner” completely. Thus one loves the “sinner” AND refrains from telling him/her about the sin. Most of course have no allusions about this in the first place.


#16

I agree in part and disagree in part. I agree that the definition of a thing being sinful is objective. One can define a sinful act. One can also by force of will do or not do the sinful act. But one cannot force once to believe about that sin as one does. One feels as one does no matter how much one may wish to conform one’s beliefs to some other standard.

I’m not sure what you mean by the claim that “if particular sorts of sin engender a less than warm and fuzzy feeling…it is not an obstacle to love”…This seems contradictory unless you are really admitting you in fact feel no love at all for the individual perpetrator but somehow manage to “love” perpetrators in general.


#17

I agree, Christian love can’t include hatred of the person. But I suspect that is how its viewed by the recipient. You may pray all you wish. I just question the morality of telling someone they are “immoral” as Christian mission.


#18

Therein lies the problem, no?

In theory, it’s a lot easier to do than in practice. Jesus was able to do it, but we can’t measure up to his standard…doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try…but it’s sure not easy.


#19

**Sorry, but I still can’t see what distinction you claim between love and feeling love. **


#20

@SpiritMeadow: Maybe some more Lewis will help you understand the distinction-- it definitely helped me. Read this carefully, there’s a lot here.

"And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.

Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment - even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I’ still think so now that we are at peace. It is no good quoting ‘Thou shaft not kill.’ There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major- what they called a centurion. The idea of the knight - the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken, What I cannot understand is this sort of semi-pacifism you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage - a kind of gaiety and whole-heartedness.

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it."

Continued…


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