On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…


Note: I never completely understood the use of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ in the context of homosexuality, and I am not speaking about that interpretation at all here. I would probably be better if that application and its connotations just didn’t exist, for it does not seem to bring much good. I just use the saying here for the plain meaning, apart from its (ab)use in certain discussions…

“Love the sinner and hate the sin.” -St Augustine in Opera Omnia, Vol II. Col. 962, letter 211

man and woman
Let’s start with the Basic human dignity in the title: as a Christian I do believe that every human has an intrinsic worth, just for being a human being. (Just as everything in Creation has to some degree a worth in just being what it is, that surpasses all our ways of measuring value in monetary units) we are all humans: men, women, children, old people, handicapped people, people we disagree with, people who say and do wrong things, people in countries we don’t like, very rich people and very poor people… And we all have more value than money could ever buy. This is because you and me and every other specimen of Homo sapiens is made in Gods image, the Imago Dei as theologians call it in Latin!

God created humans in his image and said “and God saw that what He had made was very good.” But we all know that this isn’t the state the world is in now, long after the first chapters of genesis (and probably long before the last chapters of revelations) But even if the Imago dei has been damaged, it is not destroyed, and we do all still bear the Image of God in us. Every human being, even the worst ones included, have enormous worth, just because they are human. We do not have conditional humanity, even the worst sinner is still to be respected as a human being, even if all his rights or his life are to be taken away by our worldly juridical system. Like the Orthodox fathers say, sin does never destroy our human nature even as sinful fallen being… It can seriously damage it though… No-one is beyond salvation on this side of eternity, so no Christian should treat any human like that…

Surely we all know the paradise story, and that the icon of God has been damaged… ‘Human depravity’ is a term used (and abused) by theologians to indicate that humans are fallen beings, often inclined to do wrong, which will hurt ourselves, our relationships with others, with the rest of Creation and with God Himself. We miss the mark, we do injustice to others and ourselves. This is so with all of us I am afraid. This is what sin is!

I should remark here that this doesn’t exclude that there’s not as well a basic goodness still left within every human being too, even though it might be damaged. All things created by God possess some goodness, as the creation story teaches us. People who come with extreme versions of ‘total depravity’ and argue that even babies are evil wretched sinners with no good intentions at all are just creepy and should not be put within a 1 km radius of any baby. My experience with my own kids shows that this view on babies is just faeces from a big male bovine mammal as the English-speaking like to say it when their grandmother is not around… But our human goodness can be distorted, along with Gods image in us, sometimes at the brink of total destruction.

So we indeed are all sinners and under the influence of sin as it pervades our world and our human systems, as the Christian faith tells us. But sin is not just some abstract condition we’re in that offends an easily offended Supreme being because of some weird theoretical problems with it. It seems to me that our theories so often make sin too abstract, too big and too otherworldly to do anything against in the real world, only accept the sacrifice of Jesus to erase the punishment. Such an approach actually does not do much justice to sin at all. If we can’t help but sin, and having one wrong thought is as evil as killing a whole continent full of people, cute kittens and endangered pandas, what does it matter anyway? It is so over the top that the word sin loses any actual real-world meaning.
Such views do also seem to forget that Jesus did not just come to destroy our punishment, but to do away with sin itself, and with our slavery to evil and death, and to defeat the devil and stuff like that.

Moreover sin is not just something abstract that is evil because it breaks some rules that were written thousands of years ago… It is very real, tangible, and something that does destroy our life and those of others! Bad habits, things that make it hard to have a life in connection with God and our neighbor, things that make it hard to live with ourselves, things that destroy creation itself, and so on. All of those things are sin. They are bad for very clear reasons. Sin always is destructive in some way…

And yes, we should look at our own sin first, but a lot of sin does not just affect one person. We have systems of systemic sin oppressing the poor, destroying creation, and so on. We have people persisting in habits that do not only destroy their own lives, but those of their family and loved ones too. So if I have a friend who’s an alcoholic, who is destroying himself and his family, and our friendship, and more things with that problem, is it then not just appropriate to just hate that sin? How could I love my friend without hating the thing that destroys him? Some people might say that alcoholism is not a sin but a disease, but there are many more aspects to sin than ‘breaking this or this law’, and a lot of church fathers did describe sin as a disease permeating human lives, and it often works that way!

So we should hate sin whenever we encounter its destructive force at work in human lives. And no, hating sin understood properly is not at all a rejection of the person, it is the opposite. The person should never be rejected even if they are being destroyed by sin. We should always try to love and help the person. To live in a way that brings the Kingdom of God here and now, even in this broken world. We know that destruction still reigns here, and that only in an ‘eschatological horizon’ sin will be completely done away with, but we need to live as ambassadors of a world without sin, without hate, without the destruction of good things. Which means that we’ll hate the forces that do destroy, of which sin is a very important one…

We will encounter sin in both our own lives and the lives of others, and see its destroying qualities at work. If we love the person, and see the sin destroy his life or the lives of others, we cannot do otherwise than hate the sin…

Let me also say here that we do not need to denounce everything we think violates certain rules or whatever. Sin is not about breaking rules in the first place. Rules are there(if they are just) to make sure we don’t sin, because the sin is evil. Law is there to prevent evil and destruction (or social incoherence) and is only secondary here. Law is just an aftermath of sin trying to prevent it from attacking again. I am speaking here of situations in which we see sin that is effectively destroying people, about real sin that is objectively evil because it does harm people. Rules, laws and even bible interpretations are not always the most relevant arbiter here…

Note also that a lot of the more horrible sinners -killers, druglords, rapists, slave traders, women traffickers, dictators,…- are just those who manifestly do NOT believe in this basic human dignity and just act upon it accordingly. If you think that poor people, or people of another skin color, culture, language or religion, or the other sex (or those outside of 2 binary genders) are for some reason less human like you, you will most probably automatically treat them as less than human…

But this does not mean that even those people can change and repent and change their ways, and come to a path that leads to life for themselves and many others. Note that for example the apostle Paul was a recovered Christian-hunter who had approved of the killing of Stephen, the first Christian martyr according to the book of acts. He did terrible atrocities that should be hated (and yet forgiven) but afterwards he became a Christian like there haven’t been many in the history of Christianity.

And even if they don’t, we have to respect their humanity that’s created in Gods image, but never their sin. No-one is beyond salvation, no matter how big their sin! Every human being has basic human dignity.

There is no option for Christians to put any human being beyond salvation and write them off because they are ‘too sinful’. We are to love everyone created in Gods image. And the sin is never an intrinsic part of what makes us a human being, it is the damage done to it by our fallen world. And we should be willing to pray for even the most evil of our fellow humans to be saved from their sin, because if it destroys the humanity of others, it does destroy their humanity too!(I do not know if there is a ‘point of no return’ where a person is so destroyed by sin that the imago dei is lost beyond recovery, but we do not need to think like that! It’s up to God to judge in the end what can be salvaged and what not, now we should just love… Showing love to sinners might be the thing that brings them back anyway!)

We should love the sinners. They are human beings like us, equivalent to us. It is not right to think they would be under us in any way just as it is wrong to think we’re more than them in any way. And we should hate the sin, we should never affirm it, or bow for it, or think that the sin is the essence of the person.

If we let the sin between us define the other person as ‘less human’ than us and makes us view or treat them accordingly, sin has already won one more round. Just as much as it would have won if we’d have joined the sin itself…

What do you people think?

Peace

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One response to “On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…

  1. Pingback: My own top-15 of favourite posts here in 2014 | Brambonius' blog in english

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