Christians must help America redefine a flawed conception of love and hate in the wake of another terrorist attack
A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared an image on Facebook. The photo, taken of a billboard mere miles from the site of the Republic National Convention in Cleveland, shows presidential candidate Donald Trump engaging in an erotic kiss with Senator Ted Cruz.
“Love Trumps Hate” the billboards reads, “End Homophobia.”
As you might expect, the image went viral amongst left-leaning websites—overused pun and all. Hailed as a celebration of free speech by the left (news flash: it wasn’t), the billboard and its apparent social media success underscore a continued, concerted, and unfortunately effective effort by the Democratic party and secular left to juxtapose “love” and “hate” to serve a political purpose.
“Love,” in a post Obergefell v. Hodges society, hasn’t just become synonymous with unfiltered sexual expression, it’s become tantamount to a kind of sexual evangelism that is blinded to all other concerns. This secularized appropriation of love shares much in common with the corrupted form of the Greek eros—a sort of “divine madness” that is presumed to lead humans to “supreme happiness.” Yet, as Pope Benedict warned in his 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est, “this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it.”
We see this in the billboard’s implied purpose, which, aside from reducing the two men to sexual objects and political pawns, seeks to humiliate anyone who associates with a pro-traditional marriage viewpoint.
The message to such individuals (Republicans) is clear: It’s not merely enough to have the freedom to marry or kiss whomever one chooses, but one has to submit to celebrating and engaging in this kind of sexual liberation to show any conception of love, regardless of which classical Greek conception an individual’s love might take.
Anything that defies this new secular religion, and does not cater to the personal and explicitly sexual desires of the individual, is to hate. But, philosophically speaking, this dogmatic and self-defined dichotomy of love and hate undercuts the dynamic nature of love itself. Not only does it remove the biblical notion of agape, or a kind of love that, in the words of Pope Benedict, “seeks the good of the beloved…ready, and even willing, for sacrifice,” but it removes God from love.
For the Christian, this should be a deal breaker. After all, John tells us that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Yet that the billboard’s message should be fully embraced by my friend, a thoughtful Catholic young woman, shows just how deeply rooted this warped version of love has become within our culture.
More troubling is the ready acceptance of this new secular religion of love and hate amidst a time when terrorist attacks have become an almost weekly occurrence in western countries. Troubling, but not unexpected.
This is because love and hate, within a sexualized, politicized American perspective, have become an escape mechanism for dealing with a reality in which hate, taken to its most selfish and consuming form, falls outside the simple dichotomy that the secular narrative creates.
In other words, when hate is revealed as a violent existential threat that does not discriminate and cannot be conquered through popular politics and culture, it must be ignored. There is just no other way to explain the secular left’s inability to label the terrorist attacks of Orlando, Brussels, and now Nice for what they were. To acknowledge the ever-present and indiscriminate nature of Islamic extremism is to acknowledge not just a loss of personal control, or the reality that one might be blown up just because one exists, but it is acknowledge that the dogma upon which love and hate rests is flawed.
Terrorist attacks like the one in Nice dissolve the notion that “hate” is based on laws that protect bakers who do not wish to bake your homosexual wedding cake, and instead transfer the word’s meaning to the reality that there is someone out there right now who wants to blow up both you and the baker.
What, then, should be the Catholic response to both the hijacking of “love” and “hate” as part of America’s new secular religion, as well as our culture’s avoidance to using these terms on the larger context of the world’s terrorism problem?
The first answer is simple: We must love in a Christian sense. We must show that love can be, and is, more than a two men kissing; more than a hashtag and a rainbow flag; more then something that benefits just us. We must show love in all of its healing power of forgiveness, in charity, and in what is no longer rational yet still reveals the light of faith.
The second thing we can do is to not obfuscate the nature of evil. We are called to forgive our enemies, yes, but that will never take away the very real hate that motivates many Islamic extremists. We can no longer afford to look at terrorist attacks and shake our heads as if we do not understand. When we propagate the idea that such events are just “crazy” and beyond our ability to comprehend, we avoid the question of hate. We avoid the question of evil. We avoid, to be blunt, the fallen world we must learn to live and love in.
Above all, we must have courage, and we must continue to live our lives with faith, drawing inspiration from the Church.
“Love is the light—and in the end, the only light,” Pope Benedict tells us, “that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.”