Hate is what you do, not what you feel

AZspot highlights an insightful, helpful post from Danny Coleman in which Coleman argues that toxic theology motivates “Christian” opposition to LGBT people more than personal animus does.

Here’s the core of his point:

[Christians who oppose LGBT equality] do not hate or fear LBGT people. They fear God. They carry a perception of the wrathful Old Testament God who will destroy cities or nations if “sin” is found in the camp. … Attempts to reconcile this ancient God of wrath with the God of love and inclusion that Jesus represented tend to create a sort of congitive and spiritual dissonance. And so, most Christians don’t hate and fear gays — they really want to love them. What they fear is God’s wrath and what they hate is the idea of the destruction God will bring down if LGBT people are accepted — if “sin” is allowed. There is also an earnest desire to be faithful and obedient to what they perceive God’s will to be.

The distinction Coleman makes is accurate, and it can be helpful in shaping how we go about trying to reach such Christians, to persuade them to change, and to liberate them from the toxic theology* they’re trapped in — the one that leads them to behave hatefully toward people “they really want to love.”

The problem with Coleman’s post is that the accurate distinction he makes about the source of these Christians’ opposition to LGBT equality doesn’t mean everything that Coleman wants it to mean. “I do not like it when Christians who oppose LGBT equality are accused of ‘hating’ or being ‘homophobic,'” he begins. “They do not hate or fear LBGT people.”

Well, no. They actually do hate and fear LGBT people. That hate and fear may not be their starting point, but it’s where they end up. I’m not accusing them of hating or being homophobic to annoy you. I’m accusing them of these things because they are guilty of them.

Let’s deal with the fear first. These Christians do, in fact, fear LGBT people. They have to because, as Coleman notes, they believe God requires them to do so. This fear may be an indirect side-effect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or that it somehow doesn’t matter.

This fear is the inevitable byproduct of the theology Coleman describes: God will punish me if I allow the human dignity and legal equality of Group X. To be safe, then, from the temptation of allowing such dignity and equality, I must avoid Group X. I must flee Group X.

That’s fear.

The fear of God’s wrath becomes, for these Christians, fear of association with those who might bring such wrath down upon them. And fear of association with such people brings with it fear of those people themselves.

This is much like the dual fear of bystanders in any context of ethnic cleansing. Their first fear is of the mob or the secret police. They understandably are frightened of incurring the lethal wrath that is sure to befall anyone who might appear to be giving aid or sympathy to the minority being targeted. And thus that first fear prevents bystanders from assisting, sheltering or defending the population being persecuted. The bystanders may feel bad about this, but they cannot or will not risk doing otherwise.

And thus bystanders never only fear the mob or the secret police. They also fear the knock at the door. I don’t mean the loud knocking of the mob or the police — they have obediently done nothing to have to dread such an inspection. No, the knock that they fear is the furtive knock of a neighbor in need. They come to dread this more than anything.

And that dread, ultimately, becomes resentment. Guilt always leads to resentment. And so those in need — the minority being targeted by the mob and the secret police — become both feared and hated by the bystanders.

So too, inevitably, these Christians come to fear and hate the people whose equality they oppose, however reluctantly and regrettably at first.

We only sometimes do wrong to those we hate, but we will always come to hate those whom we have wronged.

The core problem, I think, is that Coleman wants to limit hate to a feeling. And hate is not what you feel, it’s what you do.

Think of what the book of James says:

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill.” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

Or this, from  1 John:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Consider this hypothetical case of Bob and Ted.

Bob hates Muslims — hates them with a visceral, fiery hatred that burns in the pit of his stomach and keeps him up at night. He feels hatred toward them.

So Bob supported the successful campaign that convinced the county zoning board to reject a local Muslim group’s bid to build an Islamic community center on the same block as two local churches.

Ted, on the other hand, does not feel any such visceral hatred toward Muslims. On the contrary, he says, he loves his Muslim neighbors. It causes him real grief, he says, that they have been deceived by a false religion. Ted thus believes that it would be wrong to allow an Islamic community center to promote this deceptive false religion, endangering and ensnaring the souls of even more of his neighbors. And he fears that America will be punished if it tolerates false religions, just as Israel was punished in the days of Gideon.

So Ted supported the successful campaign that convinced the county zoning board to reject a local Muslim group’s bid to build an Islamic community center on the same block as two local churches.

Now, if “hate” refers only to a feeling in the gut — to a palpable sensation of animosity, abstracted from any deed or action or tangible consequence — then I suppose we could say that Bob “hates” Muslims while Ted does not.

But so what? Their gut feelings may differ, but their actions do not. Only Bob feels hatred, but both of them behave hatefully.

The difference between Bob and Ted is meaningful as far as how we might go about trying to persuade them to change — to repent and be liberated — but it means nothing in terms of the real-world damage and harm that both are doing to their actual neighbors. Ted does not earn bonus points for not feeling animus while acting in a hostile manner. He does not get a cookie as a prize for not “hating” the people whose human dignity and legal equality he opposes.

Is Ted “better” than Bob? I guess, perhaps, maybe — but who cares? Being better than Bob is a dismayingly low standard. Better than Bob can still be a long, long way from being good.

When Christians oppose the equality of LGBT people or of any other minority, I don’t care about their feelings. I care about their opposition to equality.

Hate is what you do, not what you feel.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Just how toxic that theology is becomes clearer if we polish up the parallelism in Coleman’s post. He says these anti-gay Christians shouldn’t be “accused of ‘hating’ or being ‘homophobic'” because “They do not hate or fear LGBT people. They fear God.” Hate & fear, hate & fear. Fear.

Correct the parallelism, balance the equation, and you’ll notice that the logic of Coleman’s distinction shows us that these folks don’t just “fear God.” They hate God.

And of course they do. They resent God for forcing them to strangle their conscience by treating neighbors more poorly than they wish they could. They resent God for requiring them to behave hatefully to those “they really want to love.” They resent this God for making them worse people than the people they might otherwise be.


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  • FearlessSon

    Amen, Brother Fred. Excellent post.

    It reminds me how sometimes people like creationists justify inconsistencies in the positions they hold as being put there to “test our faith”. I have to wonder if this is another such inconsistency, another such “test”. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his child to him, and after wrestling with the subject, torn between his desire to submit to God and his love of his child, he refused and disobeyed God’s command for sacrifice. In doing so he passed the test, and God was pleased, his sense of love made him stand up to the authority he considered most dear.

    Could this not be a similar thing for modern Christians?

  • Guest

    Accidentally posted, reworking. Edit: And nevermind; I don’t think I have anything useful to add.

  • Gotchaye

    I’m confused. Are you saying that in the story as presented Abraham refused God’s command to sacrifice Isaaac?

  • Jason Jones

    Technically Abraham didn’t refuse to sacrifice Isaac; God sent him a ram to sacrifice in his son’s place, and Abraham correctly recognized that he wasn’t supposed to sacrifice his son. In contrast, Judges contains the story of Jephthah who swore he would sacrifice the first thing that came out from his home to meet him after winning a battle for Israel. His daughter came running out, and he went through with the human sacrifice. The story concludes by saying that Israel’s women at the time of the book’s writing would go out into the hills and mourn for the girl annually, so it’s clear he was not supposed to do the repugnant thing that he thought God wanted him to do.

  • Fusina

    According to one priest I know, yes. As she put it, everyone was sacrificing children to their gods, someone had to end it.

    I myself don’t know. I’ve always hated that story, because I can’t imagine myself killing my children to please God, therefore apparently I love them more than I love him. If anyone has any more insight into this than I have, I would love to hear it.

  • This is an extraordinary post. I know I will read it several times as I consider the implications in the next few days.

  • arcseconds

    This is basically the same phenomenon whereby often when white people talk about ‘racism’ (and how they’re not racist) they mean visceral, firey, burny things in their stomach, whereas non-white people often mean something that impinges on non-white people differentially to the way it does to whites.

    If, say, your family isn’t getting the health care it needs, the fact that no-one’s deliberately doing this due to visceral, firey, burny things is pretty cold comfort. The main problem is your kid is sick, not people’s feelings.

    Worrying about how people feel about you is a luxury more easily afforded when they’re not actually doing anything that harms you.

    Still, and all, we’re better off with people like Ted than Bob. They both might oppose the mosque, but Ted probably won’t join the local hate group and go around kicking people’s heads in.

  • Andrew

    If I recall correctly, a character in A Swiftly Tikting Planet says that love is what you do, not what you feel (in fact, the character claims to not feel at all, but still loves, through actions).

  • arcseconds

    this also reminds me of this quote from Immanuel Kant:

    When, therefore, it is said: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
    thyself,” this does not mean, “Thou shalt first of all love, and by
    means of this love (in the next place) do him good”; but: “Do good to
    thy neighbour, and this beneficence will produce in thee the love of men
    (as a settled habit of inclination to beneficence).”

  • Lori

    They resent God for forcing them to strangle their conscience by
    treating neighbors more poorly than they wish they could. They resent
    God for requiring them to behave hatefully to those “they really want to
    love.” They resent this God for making them worse people than the
    people they might otherwise be.

    I think you know nicer “Christians” than I do. Many of the ones I know do seem to hate God, but it’s because he keeps them from doing the things they want to do, not because He makes them treat their neighbors badly. They’re fine with treating others like crap. In fact for some of them that’s the only part of Christianity they actually seem to enjoy.

    We’ve talked about this before, but it’s still true. The reason they want gays in the closet, non-Christians afraid to be open about their faith or lack thereof and women subservient in the home is that if they can’t do what they want to do they don’t see why anyone else should be able to have any fun either.

  • Jurgan

    My minister said he thinks it’s possible Abraham failed the test by not trying to protect his son. He referenced some rabbis who pointed out that God never spoke to Abraham face to face after that. Either way, the purpose of the story is to put an end to human sacrifice and make the point that killing God’s creation to glorify God is an oxymoron. Of course, lambs and other animals are also God’s creation, but since we’re made to eat them, I guess that’s different.

  • Jurgan

    It was Progo from A Wind in the Door. I’ve always liked that quote.

  • Yeah, I think Fred is giving certain people way too much credit here. He does that. It’s very, er, Christian of him.

    The fact is, these particular Christians are getting something out of hate. They aren’t sorrowful that they “have” to hate, whatever they may claim.

  • FearlessSon

    If nothing else, Fred offers them a way to step away from that hate while preserving face.

    The opportunity is there, if they should choose to take it.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I went over and had my say. We’ll see if he posts it. The long wall of text below is my comment.

    If Christians were in the same situation that LGBTs are in now, with groups regularly lying about them, demonizing them, and generally doing everything possible to make sure that they stay second-class citizens, Christians would call that hatred. They would call it persecution.

    And they would be right.

    So why is it not hatred and persecution when Christians do it to another group? Why do we have to respect it, try to understand it, be nice about it, and try to compromise with them?

    Bigotry and hatred are bigotry and hatred, no matter what the cause. Claiming that God says you need to feel X way does not cause how you feel to cease to be bigotry or hatred. Your opinions being “deep personal beliefs” does not automatically make them right, respectable or okay. They’re still harmful. The person holding them just has an excuse that some people happen to find palatable.

    You can defend how they feel and why they feel that way from here to kingdom come, and more power to you. But don’t get pissy when someone calls a spade a spade. It’s not doing you, or anyone else, a favour. It just encourages them.

    And encouraging them only leads to more harm for the people they’re targeting.

  • Tapetum

    That quote got me through the six months that my father-in-law was dying of cancer. He was a petty, immature, and generally unlikeable person, and if love had required that I feel warm and fuzzy toward him I would have been sunk before we even started. Instead I told myself every day that love was what I did, not what I felt, and for those six months I did everything I could – fed, cleaned, bathed, took to doctor’s appointments. If I hadn’t had Madeleine L’Engle to teach me that my feelings weren’t the important thing there, he wouldn’t have gotten the care that he needed (he’d alienated everyone else in his life), and I would have lived ever after guilty because I couldn’t feel warmly toward the man.

  • MarkTemporis

    If you didn’t love your children more than you loved God, you would be correctly branded a monster by nearly everyone.

    It’s not a moral bar that’s actually expected of people.

  • Foelhe

    Looks like he posted your reply. I guess that’s something in his favor at least, he’s not sweeping disagreement under the rug.

    … And he’s posted mine too. I might have gone a little overboard. Kind of wish I hadn’t posted anon.

  • Gotchaye

    Where I don’t really follow along with this is that, for lots of people, “hate” does refer exclusively to a mental state. In any other context, if someone asked me to define “hate” I might well restrict it to some sort of “feeling in the gut”. That’s not to say that someone deserves a whole lot more credit for acting terribly without that feeling than for acting terribly with it, but it’s just a word – there doesn’t have to be a “so what?” to justify making a semantic distinction.

    “I don’t hate gay people.” “So what? You behave in terrible ways towards them.” — Is fine. It’s people’s actions that matter.

    “I don’t hate gay people.” “Yes you do; you behave in terrible ways towards them.” “But I don’t feel it in my gut.” “So what?” — Is a bit weird. The “so what?” is asking for justification of the definition of a word. Someone could sensibly reply to Fred’s asking of that question by saying “So I’ve used the word in the way prescribed by most dictionaries. Why on earth are you arguing about semantics?”

    I’m not sure that there’s a better word than “hate” to deploy here. “Homophobia” is clumsy and really has the same issues “hate” has. There’s no nice, neat equivalent of “racist”. “Bigot” is too vague, although it’s what I typically use in conversation.

    So I’m not saying that people shouldn’t use “hate” in this way. But it strikes me as really strange to argue for defining a word a certain way. It’s a word; it means what it’s used to mean. There’s undoubtedly strategic value in using a word that’s already laden with negative connotations, but people don’t typically make strategic arguments for it – Fred’s certainly not making a strategic argument.

    The error being made by people who open with “I don’t hate gay people.” isn’t that they’ve misunderstood the word “hate” – they’re using it in an entirely correct way and no one has any trouble interpreting what they’re saying. Their error is that they think that that matters very much to the people whose rights they’re against. They could also be misrepresenting their own mental state, as Lori suggests. But that’s a lie or self-deception, not confusion about a word.

  • Vass

    Personally, as a lesbian, when I’m confronted with Bob and Ted, I much prefer Bob. He hates me, I’m not hugely fond of him, that’s the end of it. But Ted, Ted’s trying to gaslight me and everyone around me into believing that he’s acting against my best interests for my own good and out of love. That’s way more toxic than just being hated.

  • Anonymouse

    Oh. I never put that together with the concept of gaslighting before, but that’s a good way to put it. It’s almost like you’re not *allowed* to dislike Ted–because he’s still being nice about it, right? And with the social contract or what have you, you’re “supposed” to be nice to the people who are nice to you.

    People like that make my skin crawl.

  • Fusina

    That is brilliant. Thank you. I have apparently never turned that story upside down and shaken it to see what fell out. Probably because I was so appalled that he would even think of killing his child to please God.

    On the other hand, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Abraham had gotten even more brave and asked that Sodom and Gomorrah be spared because people are worth saving. Come to think of it, there must have been children living there, and babies. So much for children being innocent/righteous. Because there had to be more than ten kids, yes/no?

  • Mostly I just enjoy how the examples you give from the Bible are…well, commie economic justice verses, & ANOTHER thing that the people in question are busy speaking out against.

  • Charity Brighton

    I think it’s really a perspective issue. From the perspective of Ted, his own personal feelings matter greatly. From the perspective of the Muslims in his community, it doesn’t — because his behavior is virtually indistinguishable from Bob’s. It’s less that Ted is personally being dishonest, and more that it is very difficult for someone who is not inside of your brain to distinguish between your beliefs and your actions.

    If I attend a Fred Phelps picket waving around a sign with anti-gay slurs on it, people who look at me are going to say, “She is a homophobe.” Even if, in my head, I’m only waving around the sign to work out my arm muscles and I don’t really have anything against gay people, the fact that I’m spending all that time and energy trying to insult them is going to be what people see and respond to, not my secret thoughts.

  • VorJack

    I always liked Dan Simmons’s interpretation in the Hyperion Cantos. Abraham is the one testing God:

    “With a sudden clarity which went beyond the immediacy of his pain or sorrow, Sol Weintraub suddenly understood perfectly why Abraham had agreed to sacrifice Isaac, his son, when the Lord commanded him to do so. It was not obedience. It was not even to put the love of God above the love of his son.

    Abraham was testing God.

    By denying the sacrifice at the last moment, by stopping the knife, God had earned the right — in Abraham’s eyes and the hearts of his offspring — to become the God of Abraham.”

  • dpolicar

    > I’m not sure that there’s a better word than “hate” to deploy here.

    When I want to be precise and non-escalatory, I often use the word “heteronormative” to refer to the thing Teds do to gay people. But I don’t necessarily recommend being precise and non-escalatory. Sometimes “hate” is precisely the right word.

    When it comes to marriage equality in particular, I often use the formulation “people who think families like mine should be treated worse than families like theirs.” It’s long and not pithy, but I find it short-circuits a lot of time-wasting exchanges.

    It’s also sometimes worth noting that there’s a third face alongside Bob and Ted: Sam, who hates Muslims (or queers, or whatever), and has done as long as they can remember, for reasons they aren’t entirely clear on. They aren’t proud of the fact, but still, the very thought of a Muslim in their living room (or God forbid their child marrying one) makes them shudder in revulsion.

    When I want to be precise I sometimes use the word “homophobic” to refer to the thing Sams do to gay people. My best friend from high-school was a homophobe for a long time, for example, and when I came out to him in college this caused him a lot of anxiety. He eventually got over it.But I don’t use the word much, because it has been co-opted (as words like this often are) to mean “anti-queer bigot”. (Which I think is a pity. He wasn’t at all a bigot. He was just a homophobe.)

  • Guest

    A person can believe that 12 year olds should not cohabit or marry without “fearing and hating” 12 year olds. The characterization of people who view homosexuality as a sin, is simply demonization of your opponents. You should expect more of yourself. Btw I support gay rights including marriage.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, but twelve-year-olds grow out of being twelve. Gay people do not (as a general rule–sexuality is fluid) grow out of being gay. Therefore banning gay people from marrying is not equivalent to banning twelve-year-olds from marrying.

  • The_L1985

    I hate that horrible idea that people are allowed to strip you of your rights and your humanity as long as they’re “nice” or “loving” about it. WHAT IS LOVING ABOUT PREVENTING PEOPLE FROM BEING TREATED DECENTLY?

  • Guest

    Your reading skills need a tuneup. The point wasn’t about 12 year olds or gays. It’s about demonizing those you disagree with.

  • Fusina

    That is also a very good outlook on it. Thank you both, you have given me lots of food for thought.

  • smrnda

    I agree – most people will want to distance themselves from Bob because most people want to dress up their prejudice with some sort of justification, and by stating things in a calm tone of voice, they’ll make people think that here might be something rational behind their position. Nobody is going to require that I ‘respect’ Bob’s point of view while he’s frothing at the mouth, but plenty of people will tell me that I’m bound to ‘respect’ Ted’s point of view because he’s phrasing things ‘respectfully.’

  • Jurgan

    Oh, that is wonderful. If God hadn’t stopped the sacrifice, he would have been no better than any of the other pagan gods, and Abraham would have abandoned him. That’s a brilliant outlook.

  • Jurgan

    This is why I don’t call people racist. I may point out that their actions are racist, but there’s no point in calling someone’s fundamental character into question. All too often, people react to accusations of racism with defensiveness and excuses, rather than the genuine reflection that would be most helpful. Everyone has some sort of prejudice, but how you act on it is what matters. This is a principle I use when teaching students- criticize or praise the actions, not the students. It’s more meaningful when it’s specific, and it helps to shape their future behavior.

  • Jurgan

    Shorter Kant: Fake it ’til you make it.

  • Jurgan

    Well, some is, and some ain’t. It makes the most sense to focus on those who are most likely to change. You may be giving some people more credit than they deserve, but it’s better than alienating potential allies.

  • Jurgan

    Whether you agree with them or not, comparing gays to twelve year olds is a pretty insulting analogy. It suggests you think they are unable to make decisions on their own due to some sort of mental immaturity (which, after all, is why we have age of consent laws). You claim you support gay rights, but your analogy is still belittling them, and doesn’t make a lot of sense as part of your argument.

  • Yeah, but I think that likening consenting adult human beings to twelve-year-olds in order to justify denying them the rights due all consenting adult humans is the sort of thing you can’t do without “fearing and hating” them.

    Watch this:

    Surely a person can believe that dogs and cats should not cohabit or marry without “fearing and hating” dogs and cats. The characterization of people who view miscegenation as a sin, is simply demonization of your opponents

  • EllieMurasaki

    If you say so. Meanwhile, there are still people out there who think it’s a horrible thing that my state just voted to let me get married. When they stop demonizing me, I’ll stop being furious with them.

    Note the distinction. Comes of the fact that I don’t think they’re actually evil incarnate, and they do think I am.

  • Lectorel

    I’m of the same opinion. I tend to ask ‘nice’ homophobes to quit lying and just admit I disgust them, because I have more respect for people who are at least honest. It’s thrown at least a few of them.

  • In order for your argument to be legimate, you have to assume that “forbidding twelve-year-olds from marrying” is comparable to “forbidding same-sex couples from marrying”. Because if those things aren’t comparable, then your argument makes as much sense as “You can forbid froobles from glodshapping without fearing or hating froobles.” Or “You can believe it’s okay to kill and eat cows without fearing and hating cows”. In fact, let’s try that “You can believe it’s okay to kill and eat cows without fearing or hating cows. So you’re just demonizing your opponents by saying that they fear and hate homosexuals just because they think it’s okay to kill and eat them*.”

    So either (a) you have no argument at all because you are comparing two things which are unlike in the specific way relevant for the purpose of the argument or (b) you believe that same-sex couples and children are alike in the moral validity of forbidding their marriages.

    (* Like that time Larry and Patti were lost in the amazon basin and got captured by the lesbian cannibal tribe “Let’s kill him and eat him! And vice-versa for the girl!”)

  • azspot

    Have you read *The God Shaped Brain*(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16204581-the-god-shaped-brain)? Where a Christian psychiatrist posits that your view of God molds your mind. The author posits that love and fear are polar opposites on the constructive/destructive cognitive continuum. And that clinging to fear of a wrathful God gainsays the truth that “God is love”.

  • stardreamer42

    To me that’s maturity and responsibility, not love. You did what needed to be done because there was no one else. That doesn’t mean you loved him. (Having gone thru something related with my father, and having gotten sick and tired of people telling me that because I did what there was no one else to do meant that I REALLY DID LOVE HIM. No, I didn’t.)

  • stardreamer42

    If that was supposed to be your point, you chose a really poor analogy to illustrate it, for exactly the reasons mentioned above.

  • Kirt

    I can’t believe we’re forty comments in without someone noting that “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

  • stardreamer42

    My feeling about people who excuse their hateful treatment of gays on “the Bible” or “God’s Word” is that they should stop hiding behind God and own their behavior. Unlike gay people, they DO have a choice, and they’re making the wrong one every single day.

  • I prefer to focus on the people they’re persecuting. And telling the people they’re persecuting that the persecuters mean well does not help.

  • smrnda

    Most people accept placing restrictions on what young people can do because we treat young people *legally different* from adults. Most of us agree that nothing magical happens when you turn 18, just that it’s a convenient limit to use when assessing what you can and can’t do.

    I could agree that opponents of same-sex marriage often view homosexuals as if they were children who needed some responsible, ‘godly’ adult to tell them what to do, but that’s just saying that you can oppose gay marriage without hating or fearing gays, because you can be arrogant and patronizing instead. Doesn’t really improve things much.

  • Yes, exactly, and thank you for putting this so well.

  • People can also think you should be allowed to walk down the sidewalk wearing jeans, but that you shouldn’t be allowed to murder people.

    I am sick and tired of analogies that are not analogous. I’m not going to try to argue with people who compare oranges and orangutans any longer. Heck, at least oranges and orangutans are both forms of life.