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Is It Ever Okay to Hate?

Scripture says there is 'a time to hate.' What does that mean for us?

Pat Flynn

You sometimes hear Christians say we should never hate, that hate has no home in the Church. The Church is just like Martha’s Vineyard. But this cannot be right—not without proper qualification, anyway. Because Scripture itself says just as there is a time for love, there is a time for hate (Eccles. 3:8).

Is it okay, then, to hate things? Well, no, actually. It is not okay to hate any-thing. We must hate nothing. But that doesn’t mean it is never okay to hate. This may sound confusing at first, but it makes quite a bit of sense once we . . . well, get a little metaphysical.

So let’s get metaphysical.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, being and goodness are convertible, which is to say identical in reference though different in sense. Like truth, goodness doesn’t “add” anything to being. It simply designates a relation. Truth, for example, is just the relation of being to an intellect—being that is intelligible, as that which can be known. Goodness, on the other hand, is being that is desirable.

To better understand this, notice that we call something perfect when it is complete, given what it is. When some entity is lacking some feature it should have, we call it imperfect. For example, if a dog is missing one of its legs, we consider that dog imperfect. Sure, it might still be a friendly dog and nice to pet, but it is missing something that, given its doggy nature, it should have. Now, if that dog somehow grew its missing leg back, we would say that is good for the dog, because that dog is now more perfected along the lines of its nature. It now has something it should have, given the sort of thing that it is. Four legs is desirable for the dog (even if the dog itself doesn’t consciously desire it).

So goodness is just being under the aspect of desirability—that is, being that should be present, given the nature of something. Badness, by contrast, is like a missing leg. It is not any actual thing, but rather the absence of being where it is otherwise expected or due. Examples might be holes in socks, blindness in eyes, or the absence of the consideration of some moral rule in the act of making a moral choice.

Upon final analysis, evil is just a due good gone missing. This, traditionally, is known as the privation account of evil. And with this account in hand, we can make sense of why it is okay to hate, so long as hate maintains its proper object, which is nothing.

Aquinas puts it simply: “Just as good is the object of love, so evil is the object of hatred.” But again, evil is nothing where there should be something. So what we should hate are defects in being, not any actual being itself.

This immediately relates to the question of whether it’s okay to hate people. The answer is no—it is never okay to hate people. In practical application to other persons, Aquinas’s theory tells us we should hate the sin, not the sinner. Why? Because sin itself is a lack, or defect of being. It is, ultimately, when someone makes a moral choice without the application of the appropriate moral rule. What makes sin a sin is what is missing—what is missing in the order of judgment (a failure of rationality) that should have been there. That nothingness is the proper object of hate, and hate it we should. It would be improper not to hate it.

Nevertheless, we should not hate any being, including any person. Such hate is misdirected, missing its proper object, and in that sense, hate itself becomes something we should hate. That is, we should hate any act of hate that is lacking its proper object. Practically, again, we should hate when people hate the sinner, not just the sin.

This is true, mind you, even for the devil. Insofar as the devil is a creature of God, the devil is good and to be loved, and indeed, God loves him. What should be hated is the devil’s obscene moral miscalculation, the defect in the devil’s act of judgment that turned the devil from the light and into the devil that he is. That is the proper object of hatred, and hate it we definitely should.

So, it is perfectly okay to hate. Sometimes it is even demanded. But it is not okay to hate any thing. What we must hate are holes in being that should otherwise be filled—and most especially sin.

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