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Margaret Smith's response to Andrew Hamilton's 'Hate sin, love the sinner' piece

  • 18 April 2007

Dear Editor,

Below are some belated comments in response to Andrew Hamilton's article 'Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner'. Please accept my apologies for the tardiness of this response.

Andrew's unsentimental description of the Christian God 'who loves every human being as precious and knows each by name', captures beautifully the Gospel truth of the God 'who loves while we are still sinners'.

However, the accompanying assertion that God 'cannot but hate the ways in which human beings deny the value of each human being', subtly undermines the message, by attributing hate, no matter in what degree, to an all loving God. Surely the response of the God of infinite love, must rather be one of infinite compassion and enormous grief, like that of a mother who sees the profound woundedness of her children and longs to transform and heal them.

In addition, ascribing any degree of hate to an all loving God, implies the legitimacy of hate within our own responses. Asserting that God 'cannot but' hate, allows that we also 'cannot but' hate. Yet if righteous indignation that deplores, denounces, and demonstrates against evil, is allowed to turn the corner to hate, then the flames of violence are stoked once more, and fuel is provided for further violence. The point is subtle, but essential.

Those outstanding figures who stood and spoke out against violence, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Oscar Romero did so from the strength of an enormous love that gave the courage to persevere without the taint of hate, even to the point of death. Like wise, a courageous and dedicated Tibetan monk was reported by the Dalai Lama as saying that his greatest fear during thirty years of imprisonment and torture by the Chinese had been that he might grow to hate his oppressors.

Perhaps some assistance in the enormous challenge of learning to love where we are tempted to hate, may come from a Buddhist prayer favoured by the Dalai Lama and quoted below. While it may sound foreign to Christian ears, it points us in the direction of the prayer from the depths of our heart that we need if we are to have the strength never to allow the seeds of hate within us to grow, but rather perseveringly allow the infinite love God offers to arise within us and transform them into compassion.

Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears,
Which endangers myself and others,
I shall confront it and avert it
Without delay.

When I see beings of wicked nature
Overwhelmed by violent negative action and sufferings,
I shall hold such rare ones dear,
As if I have found a precious treasure.

Perhaps, learning from Mahayana Buddhism, greater emphasis within Christianity on the healing power of compassion could at times provide a more helpful guide than the concept of forgiveness alone. Compassion more easily enlarges the heart, allowing recognition and empathy with the struggle and addiction to violence faced by the 'sinner', as it seeks to unravel through love the deplorable horror in which he/she has become enmeshed. Ultimately, the divine gift of love, whether given through human agency or by grace, is the only possible means of healing for the heart hardened by the distortions possible within the human condition, and this is only possible through regular prayer or meditation.

With thanks for your great efforts at Eureka Street,
Very best wishes,
Margaret Smith.



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