Thursday, August 31, 2023

To Disagree Is Not to Hate

(Tree roots - Lake Erie - Monroe)

(I'm reposting this to keep this ball in play.)

Here's a note to all who want to sit around the table and have interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is hard work, because you have to address different religious beliefs. The way you address them is not to affirm disparate beliefs. There will be no authentic interfaith dialogue if that happens. 

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University (1981-1992) I met with many religious leaders. We all held different core beliefs. In some cases, our worldviews were diametrically opposed. Obviously, we did not agree on many things. Did this mean we hated each other? Of course not. To label someone a "hater," or accuse them of "hate language," just because they don't agree with whatever your position is, is uncivil and irrational. (Welcome to the new world of microaggressions and cancel culture. See The Chronicle of Higher Education for university examples.)

We who are followers of Jesus are called to agape love. This love is so radical it even instructs us to love our enemies! People in my church, and those who follow me on this blog, know I have been praying to love even those who are my enemies. Jesus' command to love tells me it is possible to love people who hate me and come against me. Surely, then, I can love people who disagree with me.

To feel anger is not to hate. Over our forty-seven years of marriage, Linda and I have had moments of anger towards each other. But this does not entail that we hate each other. What we do with our feelings of anger can lead to hatred, which is not what God wants. When we are told to "be angry, but don't sin," this means anger does not equal hatred. To still love, even when in disagreement, even when angry, is a sign of spiritual maturity and freedom.

As a follower of Jesus, I am not allowed to say these words to anyone - "I hate you." 

Conversely, saying "I agree with you" is not to love. Agreeing or disagreeing has nothing to do with love or hate. Love and hate concern how we respond when in disagreement, when feeling anger.

I learned a lot about disagreeing with others in studying philosophy. Philosophy classes are arenas of formulating arguments and evaluating them. Every formulation is subject to evaluation. Evaluation produces tension and a conflict of ideas. Many times, in those sometimes-intense discussions, I heard words like, "I believe you are wrong about that," or "I disagree with what you just said, because..."  

Of all the philosophy professors I had, only one was unwelcoming of disagreement and dialogue. The rest were dispassionate and, as much as anyone can be (because no one can perfectly be), objective.

Philosophical disputing was welcoming and inviting. And, there was significant questioning and disagreeing.

Lying in the background of all this are the Platonic dialogues. Here is where the art of respectful disagreement was learned. All philosophers have been shaped by these forums.

Philosophy classes taught me how to disagree without hating. I learned that disagreement is not logically equivalent to hatred. Hatred, when it happens, is a sad non sequitur to disagreement. It was sad that Socrates was killed by the hatred of some who failed to understand him. The way Socrates handled this has been a model of disagreeing while not hating.

My philosophy professors expected disagreement and questioning. They made the classroom a safe place. I learned that a safe place is not a place where everyone agrees about everything. A safe place is a place where people can disagree and learn and grow in wisdom.

A safe place is a place where disagreement is accompanied by love and respect. An unsafe place is a place where disagreement breeds hatred.

A safe place is a place for civil discourse. An unsafe place is a place where you don't have a voice.

A safe place is a place where people come first to understand, and only after understanding is achieved, to evaluate. An unsafe place is where people judge without understanding.

A safe place is a place where you can be angry, but sin not.

Anger is not hatred. A parent can be angry with their child, and not hate them at the same time.

Anger is the emotion you feel when one of your expectations has not been met. Hatred is rooted in anger. Hatred is not the emotion, anger is. Hatred is a sinful expression or response or reaction rooted in anger. Anger is an emotion you feel. Hatred is expressed in something you do.

To disagree is not to hate.