Monday, July 8, 2019
Speaking (what you take to be) hard truths ≠ hatred
Suppose I was driving past you and you stopped me to warn that a bridge was out up ahead and that I was risking my life by continuing in that direction. Suppose I reacted indignantly, accusing you of hating me and hoping that I drove off the bridge to my doom. This would no doubt strike you as a most bizarre and irrational response. Obviously, there is nothing whatsoever in what you said that entails any ill will toward me. On the contrary, if anything, what you said is evidence of concern for me.
Let’s add to the scenario. Suppose that I knew that you were wrong about there being a bridge out ahead, and also knew you to be, in general, an ill-informed and irrational person prone to making strange warnings. Would that justify my nasty reaction to you? Obviously not. It would justify me in rolling my eyes at you and perhaps even in showing some impatience, but it would still do nothing to justify accusing you of hatred or of wishing me harm. An irrational or ill-informed person is not ipso facto a malicious person.
Consider a very different scenario. Suppose you tried to convince me to follow a moral principle that I regarded as deeply irrational, such as an extreme version of according to which it would be wrong to eat anything except fruit that had already fallen from a plant. Suppose you gave me arguments for this view that I judged to be sheer sophistries. Suppose that in this case too I accused you of hating me, on the grounds that the way of life you were asking me to adopt would make me miserable, being contrary to deep seated desires, extremely difficult to follow, and likely to damage my health.
Once again the charge would be silly. You would indeed be mistaken in trying to get me to adopt your strange moral views, and maybe even irrational, but it would be unreasonable for me to accuse you of harboring hatred for me or of wishing me ill. On the contrary, you would, in your own strange way, be trying to help me by encouraging me to follow what you sincerely believed would be a morally better way of life.
That is all obvious and no doubt uncontroversial, at least when the context has to do with warning a driver of dangerous road conditions or recommending an odd dietary morality. Strangely, though, many people make exactly these sorts of bizarre accusations of hatred in other contexts. For example, suppose a theologian warns people that eternal damnation is real and pleads with them to repent so that they will avoid it. He is liable to be accused of sadism – of wanting there to be such a thing as hell and of wanting people to go there. This is no less silly than accusing a person who warns you that a bridge is out of wanting the bridge to be out and of wanting you to fall to your death.
Of course, there might be a person who wants the bridge to be out, and there might be a person who wants there to be a hell. But it doesn’t for a minute follow merely from the fact that a person believes that hell is real that he wants it to be real, any more than it follows from the fact that a person believes that the bridge is out that he wants it to be. And notice that it makes no difference to the point whether you think belief in eternal damnation is ridiculous and irrational, any more than in the case of the bridge.
Or suppose that the subject is sexual morality rather than dietary morality. Suddenly people who hold that certain practices are immoral are accused of hating those who engage in those practices. This is as stupid as accusing fruitarians of hating those who eat meat or who drink milk or who otherwise fail to abide by their austere moral standards.
Once again, the rationality or irrationality of the beliefs in question is irrelevant. Let fruitarianism be as irrational and difficult to practice as you like, it simply doesn’t follow that it is motivated by hatred. And by the same token, even if traditional sexual morality really were as irrational and difficult to practice as its critics claim it is, it doesn’t follow for a moment that its adherents are motivated by hatred.
You needn’t believe in hell or traditional sexual morality to see the point. Consider the case of Australian rugby player Israel Folau, who was recently sacked for sending an Instagram message to the effect that “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolaters” are in danger of hell. Philosopher Peter Singer, though famously an atheist and a defender of the morality of homosexual behavior, came to Folau’s defense. In his column at Project Syndicate, :
[Folau’s] post no more expresses hatred toward homosexuals than cigarette warnings express hatred toward smokers.
If that analogy seems implausible, that’s because you do not take Folau’s beliefs seriously. Granted, for anyone outside that particular faith, it’s hard to take such beliefs seriously. But try putting yourself in the position of someone with Folau’s beliefs. You see people on a path toward a terrible fate – much worse than getting lung cancer, because death will not release them from their agony – and they are blind to what awaits them. Wouldn’t you want to warn them, and give them the chance to avoid that awful fate? I assume that is what Folau believes he is doing. He even tells homosexuals that Jesus loves them, and calls on them to repent so that they can avoid burning in hell for eternity. That doesn’t sound like hate speech.
End quote. Why, then, is the “hatred” canard so common? Largely, of course, because it is so useful as a political tactic – as some activists quite frankly admit, as I discussed in a post from a few years back. And given the shrillness and venom with which the charge of “hatred” is usually flung, what the psychologists call “projection” is surely playing a role too – where the hatred that the projector projects is one of the daughters of lust identified by Aquinas.