Monday, October 1, 2012

Love the sinner: an indicator theory

Sometimes people take a "love the sinner, hate the sin" attitude towards LGB people.  That is, they don't want to hurt LGB folk, they just know in their hearts that same-sex sexual behavior is wrong because Jesus said so.  They view homosexuality as comparable to alcoholism.  Some people have a tendency towards alcoholism, and those people deserve love and respect, but they still can't condone alcohol addiction.  (I consider this view common enough that I don't need an example.)

I'm toying with an indicator theory of why this is wrong.  That is, perhaps "love the sinner, hate the sin" isn't wrong because of its literal meaning, but because the people who tend to espouse such attitudes tend to be the problem people.

And yes, "love the sinner, hate the sin" definitely correlates with negative attitudes towards homosexuality, that's not just an impression.  According to a paper in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion:
I wondered if the “hate sin, love the sinner” responses of persons scoring in the top quartile of the Religious Fundamentalism scale would be reflected in their attitudes toward homosexuals. They were not. Most “High Fundamentalists” agreed—strongly in fact—that one should hate sin but love the sinner. But they nearly proved significantly more rejecting of homosexuals (M of 51.8) than did the few High Fundamentalists who disagreed with hating sin but loving the sinner (M of 37.7; t = 1.70, p < .10). And, of course, they rejected homosexuals much more than the other three quarters of the sample. They may believe in loving the sinner, but they also believe much more that homosexuals should be discriminated against and even thrown into jail. [emphasis mine]
Here's another example where I'm quite sure that the indicator theory is the correct one: "Some of my best friends are gay."  There's obviously nothing wrong with having gay best friends.  Knowing gay people personally has a greater positive effect on one's attitude towards gay people than nearly anything else.  The problem with saying, "some of my best friends are gay," is that it's the flimsy defense people give when they're being defensive, and the kind of people who need to get defensive tend to be the problem people.

Another example: using "gay" as a noun.  In many other identity categories (eg atheist, asexual, lesbian, vegetarian, Asian, American) people hardly think about whether they're using them as nouns or adjectives.  I think the reason we consider "The gays" to be wrong is because for whatever reason that usage mostly comes from the problem people.  The more informed people know that, and therefore avoid using "gay" as a noun.

Of course, just because "love the sinner, hate the sin" is an indicator of problems does not mean that its literal meaning does not also have problems.  The problem with its literal meaning is that it's espousing a friendly attitude while simultaneously admitting terrible underlying beliefs.  Respecting others in the face of disagreement is a virtue, but it is outweighed by the fact that the person believes in morality derived from a contemporary interpretation of a text that comes from nearly two millenia ago.  When people have such stupid reasons to hate something (be it people or behavior), one is tempted to more than just disagree with them, but to hold them morally accountable for such wretched views.

To further explore what is or isn't wrong with the statement, I always find it useful to try to think of similar cases where my sympathies lie in the other direction.  For example, if someone tells me that they're going to see their acupuncturist, I might tell them that I think this is wrong because acupuncture is bunk and a waste of money.  But I wouldn't dislike the person for this.  So in some sense, I'm loving the sin, hating the sinner loving the sinner, hating the sin.  What's different?

Another example: I am an omnivore, but several of my friends are vegetarian or pesco-vegetarian.  If they tell me that they think eating meat is morally wrong, but don't let this interfere with their friendship, that's okay with me.  Vegetarians have their reasons, and these are cool to talk about on occasion.  In some sense, vegetarians love the sinners (their omnivore friends), and hate the sin (eating meat).  What's different?


Isaac said...

At the end of the second last paragraph you say "So in some sense, I'm loving the sin, hating the sinner. What's different?" Don't you mean the converse?

miller said...

Yes. Typos!

sz said...

"Love the sinner, hate the sin."

Let's forget the christian part of this, and focus on the figurative meaning of it, as you did. I am somewhat confused why you would resort to awkward statistical argumentation, when in addition to the meaning or the users of this phrase, also its application can be wrong. In all your positive examples the "sinner" and the "sinning" are not intricately linked. Like how they are with homosexuality. How can one condemn hunting without condemning predators? One can't. And that's the difference.

miller said...

I'm repeating counterarguments that I don't necessarily agree with, but one possible response to that is that homosexuality really isn't intrinsically linked to the identity of a person. Rather, people who take on GLB identities are making the link where they shouldn't. In other words, they take it personally when they shouldn't.

However, I disagree with this position (and agree with you, sz). The self-determination of one's own relationships seems like a pretty big deal to me, and it's perfectly acceptable for someone to consider that to be an intrinsic part of themselves.