Monday, March 05, 2012

[psychological non-starters]

From Richard Beck's book, unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
In sum, the antagonism between mercy and sacrifice is psychological in nature. Our primitive understandings of both love and purity are regulated by psychological dynamics that are often incompatible. Take, for example, a popular recommendation from my childhood years. I was often told that I should “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Theologically, to my young mind (and, apparently, to the adults who shared it with me), this formulation seemed clear and straight-forward. However, psychologically speaking, this recommendation was extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to put into practice. As any self-reflective person knows, empathy and moral outrage tend to function at cross-purposes. In fact, some religious communities resist empathy, as any softness toward or solidarity with “sinners” attenuates the moral fury a group can muster. Conversely, it is extraordinarily difficult to “love the sinner” –to respond to people tenderly, empathically, and mercifully—when you are full of moral outrage over their behavior. Consider how many churches react to the homosexual community or to young women considering an abortion. How well do churches manage the balance between outrage and empathy in those cases? In short, theological or spiritual recommendations aimed at reconciling the competing demands of mercy and sacrifice might be psychological non-starters.
Beck, p. 3
After drawing numerous cartoons which comment on the idea of "love the sinner, hate the sin," I found Beck's take on this from a psychological perspective very interesting. And it's pretty obvious that most churches who believe this infamous saying aren't doing a good job of following it.

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