I was greeted the other morning with news that I had a new twitter follower. The name was “I follow hate,” with the explanation “I like to follow people that follow hate groups. Jesus taught us to love, why do some people insist on using his name to justify hate?”
Yikes, I thought: Did I inadvertently follow a hate group? But clicking onto the profile of “I follow hate” I learned that the problem wasn’t with me, but with this person’s definition of hate. To “I follow hate” Catholics are haters because of what the Church teaches about homosexuality (which, in brief, is “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. … Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”)
This person had the liberal-bumper-sticker definition of hate. The one that thinks it necessary to remind Christians that “Hate is not a family value,” and that sums up the support of Proposition 8 in California (which defined marriage the way all thriving cultures and all major religions have for all time) as “H8.”
To hate something used to mean to have “a strong aversion” to it. But marriage supporters have no aversion to homosexuals as such. They listen to Elton John, they find Ellen Degeneres charming and are glad Ian McKellan played Gandalf. They just don’t want to change the definition of marriage to include anything but the procreative, unitive, family-building relationship it was invented to encourage and sustain. That’s hate. Who knew? (To see just how much some homosexuals hate this kind of “hate,” be forewarned about the language and click here.)
And “hate” isn’t the only disposition that is being redefined. “Like” is too. Like used to mean “to be pleased with in a moderate degree.”
Now it means much, much more. Of course, it means “said” (He was like, “Were you looking at me?”), it is an adverb (I, like, could not stop laughing) and it’s a qualifier, (I was, like, totally out of it.)
But even when it is used in ways more like its original sense, “like” has changed. On the Internet to push the “like” button often means, “I define myself as a person who is committed to this thing.” Somehow, in a generation, the “thumbs-up” of the Fonz transferred to Siskel and Ebert then to Facebook — and redefined “like” in the culture at large.
If you are a diehard Patriots fan you say, “I like the Patriots” and if you say, “I always liked Obama,” it is assumed you thereby bind your soul to all that he stands for. But this is a junior-high understanding of “like,” not a Merriam-Webster one. “Do you like Suzy?” to a Junior High school student means “Are you starry-eyed head-over-heels in love with Suzy?”
Which brings us, at last, to love.
Love is a famously redefined word. C.S. Lewis catalogued its meaning in his day, but it seems like each generation has its own new definition of love.
“He’s making violent love to me,” in It’s a Wonderful Life means “He is courting me energetically.” But in the post-rock-and-roll world that meaning is utterly changed. From Elvis’ “Burning Love” to Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” pop culture emphasizes love’s physical connotations.
But in our world so aware of 12 steps programs, interventions, and “Tough love” in general, we have also rediscovered the more nuanced meaning of love.
We hear things like: “If you truly love your friend, you will confront her about her bad relationship.” “I love you, man, so I’m not going to let you do this.” “If you love your kids, you will teach them not to smoke.”
We now know more than ever that it is possible to reject the sin but love the sinner. In fact, if the sin is personally injurious, it’s hardly possible to approve the sin if you love the sinner.
So, my end-of-Advent message today is: “Like” your enemies, save your “love” for your spouse, and “hate” the ones you love to tell them the dangers of “love!”