Friday, April 12, 2013

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

It took me a long time to realize that the following "equation" is wrong:
truth + truth = truth.
That is, an abundance of true statements does not necessarily lead inevitably to a correct conclusion.  True statements cannot logically imply a false statement, but they can lead someone to jump to a wrong probable conclusion.

One place this really happens is in the news.  Suppose the major news outlets all develop a tendency (based perhaps on ratings, or on some "professional" consensus developed over cocktails) to report as many negative items as possible about one group, while completely ignoring stories in which members of that group are either doing something praiseworthy or are victimized by people outside the group.  The group can be based on anything identifiable -- race, religion, national origin, preferred sports team, and yes, sexual orientation.  Regardless, it will be easy for the news media to construct a false image for the group without saying anything actually false, simply by choosing which truths they find "newsworthy".

So yes, it is absolutely true that "we must love the sinner and hate the sin."  However, stating this at the same time the sin is being condemned has the effect of weakening the condemnation; it is too much like an apology, and it leads to the false conclusion that the sin is not really very bad after all.  As a result, we never, ever hear Jesus mix the condemnation of sin with any such statement in the Gospels.  Instead, He condemns the sins of the unrepentant in no uncertain terms, but when dealing with those who know they have sinned and are ready to repent, He offers mercy.

On the other hand, I have noticed a disturbing trend of orthodox Catholic bloggers always pairing the condemnation of homosexual acts with the cliche that is the title of this post.  But please note that the pairing is only for a few select sins.  For example, when it comes to the beating to death of Matthew Shepard, I don't believe anyone has said, "Though we must hate the crime, we must love Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson;"  but the obligation to love the sinner extends to all sinners.  Nor do I recall any such statements about needing to love Bernie Madoff, or John Anthony Walker, or James Earl Ray.  For that matter, I don't recall any special messages about how, though we must deplore the sinful abuse of immigrants, we still must love those who abuse them.

It is hard to avoid two possible explanations.

  1. They realize that the battle is lost of the culture of the United States, at least for the foreseeable future, and they are afraid to antagonize their opponents.  This is nothing but craven cowardice.  I suspect it is most often the case.
  2. Duel pistolet
  3. They do not, in fact, believe that there is really anything very wrong with homosexual activity.  An analogous situation was treated in the Father Brown mystery "The Chief Mourner of Marne."  In that story, respectable members of society think it hard of Fr. Brown to leave the Marquis of Marne mourning and repenting of a sin from long ago when they think it is that he killed his brother in a duel; for example, one of them said, "Surely the true Christianity is that which knows all and pardons all; the love that can remember—and forget."  However, when it emerged that Maurice Mair (the marquis) had used a very vile trick to murder his brother James in the duel, their attitude entirely reversed.  Only that of the priest was unswayed, leaving him to say, 
We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction.  We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favorite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit  the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.

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