On the Saying “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”

On the Saying “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” May 10, 2010

Not sure if I hate the sin, but I hate this saying.

I have been thinking about the idea of autonomy developed by Immanuel Kant. For Kant, the thing which makes humans special (and deserving of dignity) is that they are able to choose for themselves their own conception of the good life. Not only can we choose a conception of the good life (the type of life we want to live), but we can revise that conception as life goes on.

As a philosopher, I should be able explain why this is the best argument. Not sure if I am up to that task. The best I can do for this post is to say that Kant’s view of autonomy and the good life expresses how I feel about freedom and morality better than anything else that I have read and contemplated.

This brings me to the underlying issue of the post: can one be a Mormon Kantian or a Kantian Mormon. I have briefly discussed this in a number of places with Russell Arben Fox and Nate Oman. Both think that it is not possible to reconcile Mormonism and Kantian liberalism. Well, guess what? I have decided that they are right (not on everything, just this point). However, this does not mean that I am no longer a Kantian. Also, it does not mean that I am no longer a Mormon. What is means is that I am no longer interested in justifying the existence of such thing as a theory of Kantian Mormonism (or Mormon Kantianism). I am a Kantian. I am a Mormon. Are these two aspects of my life a good fit? No. Do I care? Sort of. But it is who I am. Consistent? Nope. Authentic? Absolutely! This is what I have spent the last decade looking for and I think that I may have found it.

This also has pretty devastating implications for my Rawls project. Go figure.

Alright, back to the saying. “Love the sinner, Hate the Sin,” is a saying with great intentions. It is a way of saying “You can dislike a certain action, but you should be nice, even loving, to those that do it.” It seems to be most often used (lately, at least) within discussions about homosexuality. We should love homosexuals, but hate their homosexuality.

The problem that I see with this saying is that is seeks to separate the actions of the individual from the peaceful life-style they chose to live. Now, it is most likely the case that gays and lesbians do not choose to be homosexuals, but from my perspective (the Kantian-side of my confusion) it does not matter. If one chooses to be gay, or even chooses to live ones sexual orientation (rather than actively suppressing it), it is part of their basic humanity to choose to do so.

Now, you may be saying, “Well, of course they can choose to be gay, Baptist, atheist, or Utes.” But my argument goes farther. We should also respect them for their choices and show them the dignity that they deserve. By dignity I do not mean that we should merely not abuse or persecute them, but we should include them in our society as valued equal citizens. I will not get into the legal and policy implications of such an outlook here.

What about criminals and abusers?  Can’t people choose such paths as their conception of the good life? Well, this is where Kant draws a line. Those who show a blatant disregard for human dignity (particularly when it comes to acts of harm) should go to jail or otherwise be controlled be the state).

Many will point out that this saying has been used by many leaders of the Church. This is true. President Gordon B. Hinckley used it quite often. However, I think that this was in many ways a call for a loving approach to political and social disagreement.

When we look deeper, this attempt to separate individuals from the people that they really are fails. If we are to respect, value, and love, we have to respect the whole package, the whole person.

My philosophical journey has been a long one, not so much in years, but I feel that I have visited many places along the way.  At 33, I think that I have found my homes. I am a Mormon. I am a Kantian. I am also happy.

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