Monday, December 22, 2008

Love the Sin, Hate the Sinner

It’s official! Rick Warren loves us. He says so. His ministry is based on love! He even appeared on the same stage with Melissa Etheridge, of whom he’s a big fan. (Just as John McCain appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’s show. Would a hateful person have done that?) I’m sure the Mormons and the Roman Catholics and every other religious opponent of gay people would say the same thing, so could all you opponents of Proposition 8 and other manifestations of antigay bigotry please stop accusing Warren of hate? It makes you seem so … hateful. And negative. And bitter.

I’m not being sarcastic. The words “love” and “hate” aren't always empty verbiage, but in this context that is just what they are. They are irrelevant distractions, and now more than ever, we can’t afford to be distracted by irrelevancies. The image of a sign inscribed “Love Never Fails,” which I’d used in a previous post, was invoked again by a commenter at Nicola Griffith’s blog this weekend as evidence that the “No on 8” campaign, and the quest for same-sex marriage generally, were all about love. This time (and not for the first time either), though, love not only failed, it fell flat on its stupid face.

Besides, civil marriage, gay or straight, isn’t about love. It’s about property rights and child custody and access to each other’s bodies and tax breaks and pensions and a bunch of other things, and those things endure even if a married couple stopped loving each other years ago. If two people love each other and want to be together, they can exchange vows and have a wedding party and there’s no law to stop them. The parties to a contract -- which is what civil marriage is -- are not required or expected to love each other (do you love your credit card company?). Love is not the business of the state, and it shouldn’t be, any more than any other emotion ought to be.

Even on the personal level, “love” doesn’t tell you much. In one of my all-time favorite movies, Denys Arcand’s Love and Human Remains, one character, who being a psychic has looked into the mind of another, reports to a third:

Benita: He really loves you.

David: There’s no such thing.

Benita [skeptically]: No?

“There’s no such thing” isn’t the reply I’d have made. I’d have asked something like, “What does that mean? Does it mean that he’ll adore me forever, do whatever I ask of him sexually and otherwise, never disagree with me, support me financially, be a doormat?” (And even if he will adore me forever, there’s no guarantee that I’ll return the honor.)

On the personal level, love can be pretty scary. Stalkers love their targets. Abusers love the people they abuse. This hurts me more than it hurts you. If I can't have you, no one will. ... Many people would say that such behavior isn't really love. I couldn't say; it seems to be a matter of definition, since so much of the literature of love from the past to the present enshrines such obsessive behavior. On another level, I recall reading somewhere that heterosexual men often justify their resistance to helping with the housework, by claiming that they show their love for the women in their lives by copulating -- um, making love (via) with them. (And, apparently, in no other way.)

Religiously speaking, the love of God doesn’t tell you much either. God may love you, but he’ll sit up there on his golden throne and watch while you die slowly of cancer, are mangled in a car accident, are tortured at Guantanamo, starve to death in a famine. (According to traditional doctrine, he doesn't just sit back and watch: he does those things to you, perhaps as a test of your faith, but no sparrow falls without his knowing it.) Even when you’re burning in hell eternally for that time you took his name in vain after you stubbed your toe, you will not be separated from the love of God. I call that cold comfort myself, but to each his own. In the Bible, Yahweh is depicted as an abusive husband and father, who will strip his bride Jerusalem naked in public for her infidelity, and torture his disobedient children for eternity. But it hurts him to do so, because he loves them. If only they would behave themselves, he wouldn't have to punish them (for whom he loves, he chastises). People created such a god to embody their own ideas of what love means, unfortunately.

My position is that professions of love and accusations of hatred have no valid place in political controversy. No doubt Rick Warren also loves Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose assassination he advocated on US television earlier this month. Who cares? We shouldn't even kill, torture, bomb, maim, defame or otherwise deny human rights to people we love, let alone those we don't; neither hate nor love is an excuse. I don't see much love, if any at all indeed, in most of the overwrought reactions to Obama's invitation of Warren to pray at his inauguration, from the same people who accuse Warren of hate. Not that I am urging Warren's critics to be more loving: I am urging them to stop pretending they're all about love, and to start developing some political strategies to pressure Obama to be a better president once he takes office. (IOZ says roughly the same thing here, only nastier, bless his heart.) As Mae West might have said (but didn't, as far as I know), Love has nothin' to do with it, honey.