Is “Love the sinner, hate the sin” insincere?

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 16, 2015

Lately, I’ve noticed that more and more people sneer at the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”—particularly in the context of debates over same-sex marriage and religious liberty. For someone who thinks there is no way to hate someone’s behavior (especially when that behavior is associated with an “identity”) without despising the person as well, the expression can appear as little other than a disingenuous rhetorical ploy.

Well, we can take it for granted that there are plenty of people who fail to love the sinner. But the abuse of something does not take away its proper use, and hypocrisy condemns not the ideal but the person who uses it as a cloak for wickedness. So let’s look at what options are left to us if we reject “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

By that logic, I can do only one of two things. I can hate murder and therefore hate the murderer, or I can love the murderer, in which case I am bound to love his crime along with him. But I refuse to hate murderers just as I refuse to condone murder itself.

Similarly, this logic implies that I cannot love myself without loving every one of my thoughts, impulses and actions, and I cannot hate my vices without hating myself. But I know that I ought to love myself while recognizing that I do many things that are not good for me.

By their own reasoning, then, those who scorn hating the sin and loving the sinner convict themselves either of hatred (since their logic binds them to hate anyone who performs acts they consider evil) or of extraordinary self-righteousness (since, if they wish to avoid self-hatred, they must pretend they have never done anything wrong).

Actually, there is a third option: They simply have no awareness of a self beyond thought, feeling, desire and action, of the self Thomas More urges his friend the Duke of Norfolk to find in A Man for All Seasons:

I will not give in because I oppose it—I do—not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do—I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this [grabbing his shoulder] that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist, composer, and occasional amateur comedian living in New York City. He produces and hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 19, 2015 5:37 PM ET USA

    The analogy I often use is that of a parent telling his kid not to play in the middle of the highway.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 18, 2015 6:29 PM ET USA

    Two observations: 1- When I started reading the article, I was expecting to find that the "BS" referred to something other than the expected acronym but that was not the case. 2- It may just be me, but I am still trying to understand what the article is saying. Maybe it needs the help of a good editor.

  • Posted by: meegan2136289 - Sep. 16, 2015 11:06 PM ET USA

    Didn't bother reading the article. "BS?" That's kind of vulgar. Please don't sink to the level of our so-called, "culture."