Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

Have you heard the maxim, “Love the sinner; hate the sin”? I’ve heard it dozens of times. It always seemed like a good principle, and I do think it is well-meant.

This week, I read a wise follow-on:

Part of “loving the sinner” must be making sure that legitimate desires and activities are not unjustly classified as “sin.”

Excellent point! Do we love “sinners” enough to do the hard and painful work questioning our most basic assumptions?

The phrase love the sinner but hate the sin originated in Augustine’s letter 211, written to a group of nuns. The “sins” he has in view are excessive eye contact with men and receiving letters or gifts from men.

Though a passing glance be directed towards any man, let your eyes look fixedly at none; for when you are walking you are not forbidden to see men, but you must neither let your desires go out to them, nor wish to be the objects of desire on their part.

If any nun violates this dictum, the others are to discipline her “with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin.”

He continues,

But if any one among you has gone on into so great sin as to receive secretly from any man letters or gifts of any description, let her be pardoned and prayed for if she confess this of her own accord. If, however, she is found out and is convicted of such conduct, let her be more severely punished…

To be sure, each nun had made a vow of celibacy and violating any vow is a serious matter. However, many people today, including many Catholics, question the wisdom of such vows in the first place. They wonder whether natural sexual interest, even by members of religious orders, is really a sin and whether suppressing it so ruthlessly does more harm than good.

I’m encouraged to see more and more of this kind of questioning. Voters in two states recently legalized marijuana use. As of this writing, nine states allow same-sex marriage. The citizenry is loving the sinner by taking a fresh look at their own long-standing ideas about the sins.

At the same time, we are becoming more aware of sins that do real harm — sins like dogmatism and prejudice.

What do you think? Are we going to hell in a hand-basket, or are we throwing the hand-basket into the abyss and climbing toward fresh air?

11 responses to “Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin

  1. Neither. This is a tough question because it is based on a statement which is a lie to begin with. But it is so bad that most people can’t comprehend the truth of the matter. The Christian concept of this statement today is that this is how God views humanity; it’s not. This causes a lot of confusion and anomalies in the Christian philosophy; many of which you’ve pointed out. Such things destroy many people’s relationship with God when they realize and acknowledge these anomalies.

    God hates sinners (Ps 11:5). Now this is where things break down. The Christian perspective of a sinner is someone who has sinned hence we are all sinners. By combining that logic a person can reasonably say based on the verse mentioned above that God hates everybody. Hence now we have an anomaly.

    However, the Biblical perspective of a sinner is someone who sins and does not repent. Such a person is also described as ‘wicked’ when translated into English. Now we are getting close to having a proper perspective of what this means.

    ‘Hate’ is use for the Hebrew word ‘sane’ (שנאה). In our day and age, ‘hate’ no longer means what it may have back when the KJV is translated so it improperly relays the concept of the ‘sane’. ‘Sane’ simply means to ‘turn away from’ like a person would when seeing a thorn bush. So in other words, what is being said is that God leaves a sinner, someone who does not repent, to their own destruction.

    Sin in another misunderstood word. The Church has spiritualized it thus they can make it mean pretty much anything they want. However, Biblically sin is a physical condition. In short, it is destroying what God created resulting in decay, healthy problem, etc. It follows the law of cause and effect. The reciprocal of this, however, isn’t always the case. Just because something is someone is sick does mean they have sinned.

    Going back to your question; becoming more aware of sins that do real harm and moving away from those that do not results in that breath of fresh air because they were not sins to begin with; they were shackles of bondage employed to empower the Catholic Church to take advantage of people’s ignorance which they also cause. That is why when the Bible was published so the common person could read it, Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. In a lot of ways, humanity is still emerging from them.

    At the same time humanity is throwing itself into the abyss by ignoring sins that do real harm. Just as the Catholic Church redefined things to suit their purpose, Science, in a lot of ways, is doing the same. The end result in both cases is self-destruction.

    • I left off before finishing my thought on hate. ‘Sane’, turn away, does not mean that a person is to cause harm or do injustice to what or who they are turning away from. Jesus addressed this when he said, “Love your enemy”. An enemy is someone you hate or are in opposition to. The concept he is trying to get across is that we are to treat them justly.

  2. Beagle, I love this post. Yes, I do think this country and world culture in general is progressing.

    Now, if we can view behavior through the lens of an ethologist, then the moral questions melt away entirely, and we begin to view human behavior like the behavior of any other animal species.

  3. The word ‘sin’ indicates an offense against god. Since god is nonexistent, let’s throw out the word and have meaningful dialogue about human morality — right and wrong actions based on reasoning, empathy, promoting happiness and preventing real harm (not imagined ‘sins’) to ourselves and others.

    • Philosophically and religiously (Christian), that is how sin has been incorrectly redefined. Hebraically, where sin is originally defined, it is offence against one’s self, others or nature; the existence of God makes no difference. Such offences are also absolute powered by physics and can only be discovered.

  4. I didn’t know that was the origin of “Love the sinner hate the sin.” I’m somewhat with Nelly on this. I don’t think the concept of sin is as useful as going straight to morality. The word sin today has too much religious baggage associated with it, and I think a more productive discussion would be strictly about actions that cause real harm to real beings.

    That said, I do think that we’re progressing, even if we do have to drag the religious kicking and screaming.

  5. I dont really have much to add to the current post. I do agree with it though.

    Ive been stuck thinking about ways to share what ive gone through in a way that would encourage current Christians to honestly question their beliefs in a one on one scenario. I would love to say im comfortable letting people believe what they will, but ive seen and experienced how harmful it can be. I hear and see alot of people I grew up with in the church, and I want to just run up to them and start a conversation about all the things ive learned about how Christianity came to be, and the history of the bible, and the history of God. I even tried to explain to one of my oldest friends that I didnt choose not to believe. It certainly didnt feel like a choice. I stopped believing for the same reason I believed in the first place. I was acting both times with the best information that I had at the time. I dont want them to change because of what I say, I want them to want to go out and discover it on their own.

    Ive tried this a few times.. with mixed results. Mostly, im told im arrogant (as well as a few other “a” words). I know it isnt simple, and that one conversation wont be enough to damage the web of “Truth” that they hold so dear. I dont know what drove me to seek out my own answers, but even a crack could eventually turn into a massive change over time. Has anyone else actively tried to engage in this discussion? Is there any way to bring this topic up in a way that will allow believers not to feel defensive, or am I going about this all wrong?

    • I agree that a believer must be ready to seek the information on his own. In my own case, it took a crisis (which you read about in Part 1 of my recent series on why I left evangelical Christianity). I suspect that’s true for most people. We are lazy and complacent until something bumps us pretty hard. So, I don’t think there will usually be any “Magic” way for you to bring up the topic to good effect. It depends more on your listener than on you.

    • Magic, I’ve been called arrogant too. Been told I’m acting like I think I’m sooo smart. With that in mind I’ve tried hard to come across more humble, just inviting open dialogue, not combative. However, Christians are so identified with their entrenched beliefs that your questioning them is taken as a personal offense, no matter how much you try to explain that it’s not meant so. They will accuse you of being angry and bitter and haughty. They’ll call you a fool with a ‘darkened heart’ (whatever that means), and they can’t get past their perception of you to listen to the actual content of what you’re saying … until they start asking their own questions, driven by their own doubts. Then, and only then, will it happen.

      • Fundamentally, a fool is someone who believes that God does not exist. A darkened heart means a person doesn’t have the light of Torah to illuminate their way. Consequently, most Christians don’t have that light either, they simply think they do.

        Knowledge alone usually isn’t enough to change a person; usually it must be accompanied or preceded by an experience. Of course, that describes the Hebrew definition of knowledge, “know by experience”. An experience will have a greater affect on a person’s life than any amount of knowledge they are confronted with.

  6. Pingback: Shaphat | Path of the Beagle

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