Hate has become very topical—“hate speech,” “hate crimes,” being “hateful.” Yet in the ’60s, when “Love” was widely proposed as the solution—the “Summer of Love,” “all you need is love,” “unconditional love,”—there was not much talk about “Hate” being the problem. Now, when there is so much talk about “Hate” being the problem, there is not much talk about “Love” being the solution—except that “love is love.” (This is not a column about sexuality or politics, but it gets to the root of what makes sexuality, politics, and all of life meaningful.)
Regardless of the cultural mood, Jesus Christ commands everyone always to be loving (Matthew 22:34-40). So what are Love and its opposite, Hate?
The Real Meaning of Love and Hate
Every human being has both emotions and a will. The emotions are non-physical movements (e-motions) toward or away from something; they are reflexes, reactions, spontaneous feelings. The will is that which wants, desires, chooses, and makes commitments.
Ultimately and essentially, Love is not an emotion, although Love usually begins as an emotion, as liking. At its most complete, Love is far more than an emotion. Love is an act of the will, an act of willpower, that chooses to do what is good for someone else regardless of how we feel. Emotional Love is like the backswing in sports, and willful Love is like the follow-through.
Like Love, Hate is an act of the will—not just an emotion, not just disliking. Unlike Love, Hate wants what is bad for another.
When Christ commanded everyone to love others, even enemies (Matthew 5:44), He did not mean “Never have negative feelings toward others, even those who harm you.” He meant “Choose what is good for others, even those who harm you. And to the extent that you have bad feelings toward them, overcome your feelings with your willpower so that you do good to them.”
God loves us humans not just by having warm and fuzzy feelings toward us. God perfectly loves us by wanting what is absolutely good for us. He created the first humans to share perfect life with Him in the Garden of Eden, the Original Grace. After their Fall from His Grace, the Original Sin, God wants a perfect eternity with Him in His Kingdom for us humans. Until then, God wants goodness, truth, and beauty for us, especially the fullness thereof (this side of eternity) in the Catholic Faith.
The Devil hates us by wanting what is bad for us. He especially wants what is absolutely bad for us, which is to share his misery—his loneliness, frustration, jealousy, anger, and bitterness—for all eternity.
Two Ways of Knowing What Is Good for Others
In order to choose what is good for others, we must know what is good for others. There are two ways: (1) Asking others what they believe is good for them and (2) Using Reason and Faith to discover the objective reality of what is good for them.
Asking others what they believe is good for them has merit, especially when it obtains input or feedback that only they can give. E.g., doctors practice good medicine when they ask patients to describe their symptoms. This way goes wrong when it uncritically accepts what others say is good for them when it treats others as the final and infallible authorities on what is good for them when it considers Love to be completely subjective.
Then we simply give others what they want, what makes them feel good about themselves, what makes them comfortable and does not offend them. Since the 1960s, we have all learned how to treat others this way and to tell others, “Follow your heart/dream/passion” and “Be yourself.” It has now gotten to the point that not to do so is “Hate.”
However, giving others what they want and encouraging them to pursue their want just because they want it is False Love. Anyone in a position of responsibility realizes this. A good parent does not give the child everything the child wants. “Sure, My Darling Toddler, if you want to touch the flame to find out what it feels like, go right ahead!” A good coach does not give the player everything the player wants. “Practice only when you feel like it? No problem! We can still be champions!” Neither does a teacher. “Okay then, Kids, no test! Ever again!” Nor does a boss. “Work whenever it makes you feel good about yourself, Esteemed Employees! We will still turn a profit and be able to pay you!”
Anyone owed something also finds the let-others-dictate-what-is-good-for-them way of loving to be False Love. “You don’t feel like paying back that money I loaned you? You totaled my car and don’t take responsibility? That merchandise or service was defective? No paycheck this week? Whatever makes you feel good about yourself!”
The second way of knowing what is good for others corrects and completes the first way. In order to love others, we need to use Reason and Faith to know what is objectively good for them, to know if they are right or mistaken about what is good for them. Asking a patient his symptoms does not make medical school, blood tests, x-rays, scans, and biopsies unnecessary.
To use Reason is to use good philosophy (e.g., the true view of human nature), good social science (e.g., true psychology), good natural science (e.g., true biology), and common sense. To use Faith is to use Catholic Doctrine. God best knows what is good for us. Right Reason and Catholic Doctrine never contradict each other. “Love” that contradicts Truth is False Love. Loving others means helping them deal with reality, not enabling them to deny reality, especially the reality that God knows best.
This second way does not deny that sometimes what is good for one person is bad for another, e.g. loving one person means giving her food with gluten while loving another person means giving him food without gluten. But what is good for one but not for another must be objectively good for one but not the other. Gluten is neither good for me just because I feel confident eating it, nor is it bad for me just because I feel afraid of it.
The Key to Loving
St. Augustine brilliantly and starkly gave us the key to loving: “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” For us, this usually means: “Disapprove of the mistaken thought or action of someone, but respect the mistaken person as a fellow human being and child of God.” So loving the sinner that we love or approve of the sin is False Love. So hating the sin that we hate the sinner is False Love. There is so much more to us sinners than our sins!
We must make judgments, but we should make the right kind of judgments. We should judge, evaluate, assess whether another’s thought is true or false and his action is right or wrong, but we should not judge the state of the other’s soul and whether the other is blameworthy in the eyes of God, although we must judge whether someone is innocent or guilty in many practical situations. We must continue to respect the other’s human dignity, even if his own thought or action belies his human dignity.
Often we keep our negative judgments to ourselves. When it is appropriate to express them, we should do so as constructively as possible, since there are unloving ways of expressing them. A Spiritual Work of Mercy is to admonish the sinner, but we should not admonish in a sinful way.
The way St. Augustine instructs us to love others is the way God loves us. God hates our sins, but He loves us. God does not so love us that He loves our sins, and He does not so hate our sins that He hates us.
As Saint Pope Pius X wrote in Our Apostolic Mandate (1906):
While Jesus was kind to sinners and to those who went astray, He did not respect their false ideas, however sincere they might have appeared. He loved them all, but He instructed them in order to convert them and save them.
A basic Christian experience is realizing the ugliness of one’s sins while also experiencing the love and forgiveness of the One True God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die in atonement for those sins. The Christian then overcomes two great temptations: either to feel no guilt for his sins or to feel too guilty for his sins. He realizes that although his own mistakes are real, God’s love is more real. This is the true meaning of God’s unconditional love for us.
When Christ commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He implied that we really should love ourselves. Self-love includes having self-esteem.
Real self-esteem is being able to look at myself objectively and admit both my objective strengths and objective weaknesses. It is taking criticism from others and accepting challenges. It is even examining the content of ill-spirited criticism. It especially is admitting that I need the salvation that God alone can give.
Real self-esteem is knowing that the All-Perfect Lord God, the All-Holy Supreme Being, loves me while He hates my sins. We should neither so love ourselves that we love our sins nor so hate our sins that we hate ourselves. Real self-esteem is expressed at every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
It seems to me that the Devil is having his greatest success in society and in the Church today by deconstructing Faith and Reason in the name of “Love.” The Father of Lies is a subverter and a perverter. He tempts us to have False Love. “God loves you just as you are, and so God loves everything about you, including those things that contradict Reason and Catholic Doctrine.” “Love yourself and have self-esteem by loving everything about yourself, including those things that contradict Reason and Catholic Doctrine.” “Follow your heart, even when it contradicts Reason and Catholic Doctrine.” “Be supportive of others by supporting whatever makes them feel good about themselves, including when they feel good about contradicting Reason and Catholic Doctrine.”
The good news is that Real Love will win in the end. When Christ comes to judge the living and the dead and complete the establishment of the Kingdom of God, there will be no more False Love as well as no more Hate. The war has been won.
The bad news is that battles will be lost along the way. Jesus was always perfectly loving; He was Love Incarnate. Yet Jesus was not always loved by others in return. He eventually was tortured and crucified.
When we love others, they still might treat us badly. Even when we ask others for forgiveness, they might treat us badly by withholding it. Constructively criticizing someone is difficult when he is convinced he is right when he plays the if-you-disapprove-then-you-hate-me card, and especially when he does not realize that there is much more to him than his mistaken thought or action.
Jesus chose to die not only for those who treated Him well but also for those who treated Him badly. Like Jesus, we should love those who do not return our love by staying committed to doing what is objectively good for them, even when they perceive it as “Hate” or “being mean.”