Monthly Archives: February 2020

Ten Mangled Words: Hate

Hate has become the only sin the left recognises. To them, it is apparently not possible to sin sexually, and any and every form is to be celebrated publicly. Slaughtering innocents (perhaps the most heinous form of murder) is to be cheered and encouraged. Stealing other people’s property is no sin if it is “redistributing” or “redressing inequality”. No authority or family bond is sacred; any and all can be dissolved in the name of statism, equality, tolerance or climate change. Lying and distortion have become commonplace. And what passes for  arguments for “better living standards for all” or “the top 1% paying their fair share” is nothing more than coveting your neighbour’s goods. That’s commandments five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten that you can break with no guilt and regret.

But there is one sin, and it may be unpardonable. Hate is the sin that the left regards as the chiefest of evils. If your words can be classified as hate-speech, you can be jailed. If your actions can be construed as a hate-crime, you will be face the wrath of the law. If the courts don’t nab you, general society will. You may be called a “hater”, a bigot, a racist, a Nazi, and many other epithets before you’ve had the chance to tell your apoplectic neighbour that you actually love him or her.

What is this sin of hate? Asking the question of your accuser may bring a momentary puzzled silence. Hate has become a catch-all word for opposition. Whether you oppose something the left cherishes in a quiet, private way, or in a loud, public way, it will be considered hate. Whether your opposition is a religious belief that something is sin, or whether it is a practical concern with the impossibility of some leftist ideology, it will be considered hate. Whether it is refusing to recognise imaginary genders and use the corresponding pronouns, or whether it is simply insisting that you and your own house regard heterosexual marriage as the only natural way of human sexual relations, it will be considered hate. Whether you defend Christianity against attacks, or whether you evangelise others, it will be considered hate. Opposition is hate.

In other words, there is a Tower of Babel of ideologies. As long as you join and co-operate, you’re fine. Bow to the image, burn your incense to Caesar, take the Mark and you’re a good, enlightened Christian. As long as you do not oppose any of the popular positions held by the left elites, then you believe in love. If you actively or passively oppose those positions, then you believe in hate. And haters don’t deserve civility. That is, haters should be hated.

The childish partiality of this use of “hate” is transparently obvious for any with eyes to see. But for a Christian, the word hate has more complexity. After all, there are several Scriptures that actually commend hate.

You who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked. (Ps. 97:10)

Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. (Ps. 139:21-22)

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate. (Prov. 8:13)

Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:15)

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luk 14:26)

But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev 2:6 )

Granted, hate does not refer to the same thing in all those verses. But that is just the point. Scripture clearly has kinds of hatred that it commends, and kinds that it condemns.

Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins. (Prov. 10:12)

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: …idolatry, sorcery, hatred, … (Gal. 5:19-20)

So should we hate, or should we not? Is hate an Old Testament phenomenon? If we are to hate, what kind of hate is “righteous hate”?

To repair this mangled word, we should begin by finding out what kind of hatred God condemns. Second, we should investigate the kind of hatred God Himself exhibits and therefore expects his people to have. Third, we should understand how a right hatred affects our understanding of love, including love for our enemies.

Taste and Preference: A Last Word

Why are there such different “tastes” among people? Is the debate over music in worship simply a “preference issue”? Are matters of music, dress, recreation merely matters of “personal style”? We have tried to sort out the meanings of the word “taste”, and have seen two distinct meanings.

The first is the act of judging, or discerning. It is the faculty that can tell good from evil, true from false and beautiful from ugly. When exercising judgement, we are doing more than privately enjoying personal likes. We are trying to find out what is worthy to be enjoyed, known and experienced. This is a public judgement, one that is meant to be shared, compared, and criticised by others. It is possible for this taste to be more or less true: to conform to what, according to God is excellent (Phil 1:10). That does not mean it will be easy, or that our judgements will ever reach unanimous consensus. Apparently, God built difficulty into the world. The fact that we struggle to learn how to love what God loves is instructive in itself. Perhaps true relationships require real thought, meditation, thorough testing and experimentation.

This judgement should be grown and attended to with the same diligence that we give to growing in moral holiness or in theological knowledge. Our aesthetic maturity is not some extraneous social grace, or an elitist boasting point, but a measure of whether we can perceive the world as God has made it. It takes long practice, and a refusal to simply choose what is easy and sentimental. It requires a self-consciously counter-cultural posture. But it is as necessary as the other areas of worldliness that we abstain from. Loving beauty is not an optional extra to the Christlike person. Good people do not love ugly things.

The second meaning of “taste” is what is usually meant by “preference”: the differing inclinations and interests of people.  As bishop Richard Harries points out, “[T]here are many kinds of beauty and whilst all forms will be characterised by wholeness, harmony and radiance, they will have these attributes in different ways”. If we then imagine a spectrum of truly beautiful things, we may still expect aesthetically mature people to find differing preferences within that spectrum.

Two caveats are in order.

First, such differences ought not to be termed “personal style”, a term which usually refers to an eclectic menagerie of beautiful and ugly, one which is supposedly immune from criticism simply because such a collection represents an individual’s choice.

Second, aesthetically mature people will be able to recognise why another object of beauty, while not their own preference, has merit and should be judged to be beautiful, or conversely, disdain an object as unworthy, in spite of the fact that it may be preferred by oneself or a close companion. The focus is not on freedom to choose; the focus ought to be on supplying plausible justification for your choices, giving warrant for your loves, not expecting the fact that you love something to be justification in itself for that love.

In those Philippians 4:8 areas, there is room for preference, indeed, room for opposing convictions. In what displeases God, there is no preference at all. If God has no taste for it, neither should we.

In summary, the question of good taste is not a simple one. Aesthetic maturity is needed, but relativism rules the day in our postmodern world. Narcissism, sentimentalism and kitsch provides an alluring and deforming effect on good taste. This bad taste is widely promoted through the media and structures of mass culture. Preference plays a role in explaining discrepancies over good taste, but preference has a far smaller role than aesthetic immaturity, loyalty to sentimental art, and cultural deformation.

Ironically, as in many areas of Christian growth, it takes the presence of a virtue to spot its absence. You need good taste to spot bad taste. You need good judgement to see the errors of bad judgement. Perhaps then, at the heart of Christian good taste is the attribute of humility: the patient, teachable, childlike spirit that is willing to admit its weakness or ignorance, learn from its betters, and develop the discernment to love what God loves

Taste Formed and Deformed by Culture

Taste is never shaped in isolation. We learn to love what we love from our family, our church, our school, and our society. In other words, taste is largely shaped by culture.

Culture can be defined as T. S. Eliot suggested, “the incarnation of a religion”. At the heart of any culture is Richard Weaver’s “metaphysical dream”: an unspoken but ever dominant vision of ultimate reality. From this vision, a culture creates worship, art, jurisprudence, custom, and social order. Quentin Faulkner says that “culture is perhaps best defined as the collective behaviour (together with the resulting artefacts) of a society engaged in acting out (symbolising) its most deeply held and cherished shared beliefs and convictions”.

Understood this way, culture is formative and , in some senses, determinative. As the composer Julian Johnson, puts it, “Culture is not something you choose: it confronts you with an objective force. To be sure, it is a composite product of individual consciousness and is amenable to our own work upon it, but it is far from being a matter of choice. Culture is no more a matter of choice than having two legs or being subject to gravity is; one can no more reject culture than reject electricity or weather”.

If culture is formative, much of what is wrongly called “personal taste” is actually shaped by example of others and exposure to others’ loves. Tastes are first received before they are scrutinised or even challenged. People begin their lives as members of a culture and identify with its loves and hates; it is only later that they begin to question if they wish to continue to own all that the culture holds dear.

“Ah!”, says the musical and aesthetic relativist, “this just shows that taste has no objective standard! It is completely different from one culture to another, and therefore no taste can be judged to be ‘better’ than another”.

Were humans all still living in isolated folk cultures in which they were united by religion, language, and geographical region, this study would have to consider how different folk cultures have approached beauty, and how taste should be related cross-culturally. But they aren’t. The technologies of mass culture have erased geographical boundaries. All that is left of folk culture are those remnants that have been selected by producers of mass culture to create new products: a movie about Native Americans, a pop song using Swiss yodelling, or a Disney movie about animals with themes sung in Zulu or Swahili. The truth is, we all live in the world of mass culture. The question of universals between cultures is really no longer a major question: we’re all in the same culture now. And it’s really a non-culture. Christopher Dawson says of mass culture,”[T]he new scientific culture is devoid of all positive spiritual content. It is an immense complex of techniques and specialisms without a guiding spirit, with no basis of common moral values, with no unifying spiritual aim…A culture of this kind is no culture at all in the traditional sense—that is to say it is not an order which integrates every side of human life in a living spiritual community.”

What kind of taste does mass culture produce in its members? Faulkner suggests two beliefs.

1. A belief in the individual’s right to pursue self-satisfaction, self-fulfilment, and self-gratification.
2. Confidence in the potential of modern science to create for us an ever improving quality of life, coupled with a fascination with the technology that is the result of modem science.

The kind of taste that most clearly corresponds to the first belief is what we disparagingly call kitsch (art that makes us feel good about feeling). The taste most properly aligned with the second belief centres on, in the words of Calvin Johansson, “media, presentation and image”. A culture given over to this will be one that emphasises what is more entertaining, such as exciting images, rather than text. When image dominates in a culture, a religion of the Word suffers.

In such a culture, taste is necessarily deformed, and such deformity reinforced. Indeed, only the mentality of the marketplace would define taste as entirely a matter of individual choice, like products to be purchased and consumed. Only a member of mass culture would see an eclectic selection of cultural products as “personal style”. “The equating of cultural choice with personal style signals the end of an understanding of culture as something related to objective spirit” (Julian Johnson).

Mass culture does not, and perhaps cannot, communicate transcendent ideals. Its art forms, made as they are to sustain narcissistic interest, are not capable of sustaining the Christian vision of a holy, glorious, and beautiful God. A culture of easy listening and easy living leads to the atrophy of imagination, and to simplistic sentiment.

When people are dominated by the sensibilities of mass or popular culture, it deforms taste in all the directions that Christian aestheticians have warned against: using art instead of receiving it, taking immediate responses as the “truth” of the work, promoting aesthetic relativism, and creating an appetite for narcissistic art.

Differences in taste can certainly be credited to the shaping force of culture. To what extent a person is embedded in in mass culture will have a proportionate shaping influence on his aesthetic taste.