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.”
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?