Sometimes I think we'd all be better off if we declared a moratorium on hate. Not on hating itself, but on the use of the concept of "hate" to browbeat and bully our moral, cultural, and political opponents into submission.
Consider a recent example:
Back in 2013, a Christian-owned bakery in Oregon named Sweet Cakes by Melissa declined to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. The lesbian couple that had been turned down might have done what ex-blogger and long-time same-sex marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan has suggested: "If you find someone who's genuinely conflicted about doing something for your wedding, let them be. Find someone else."
But no. The lesbian couple complained to the authorities, a judge determined last January that the bakery violated Oregon's anti-discrimination laws, and this past Friday the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries proposed an award of damages to the couple of $135,000 (for "emotional suffering stemming directly from unlawful discrimination") — this despite the fact that the bakery has since gone out of business and its owners (who have five children) are already struggling to pay the bills.
Immediately after the proposed award was announced, supporters of the bakery owners started a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe to cover the family's costs. The campaign raised more than $109,000 in its first eight hours — but then it was halted and shut down when foes of the bakery complained to the website, claiming that the fundraising effort violated its terms of service, which prohibit raising money "in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts."
The "heinous crime" in this case obviously had nothing to do with violence or sex. So we're left with "hateful." The owners of the bakery didn't yell and scream insults at the lesbian couple. They didn't beat them or threaten them with violence. They merely chose not to sell them a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony because their religious faith tells them that two women cannot marry. And that, apparently, is an example of hate.
But is it?
Surely we can all agree that an action or statement can only be said to exhibit hate when it expresses extreme dislike for a person or group combined with an implied or explicit threat. Judged by that standard, it's hard to see how the bakery owners displayed hate. What they displayed was a difference in fundamental values.
But how about the lesbian couple? They went to considerable effort to make trouble for the bakery — and the effort succeeded. It was driven out of business. Could that not be described as an expression of hate?
And what about the couple's allies — the ones who got the crowdfunding campaign shut down?
One of the people behind the effort, a woman named Lisa Watson, posted the following statement on her Facebook page on Friday: "This business has been found GUILTY OF DISCRIMINATION and is being allowed to fundraise to pay their penalty. The GoFundMe terms of service address hate speech, bigotry, criminal activity, and sexism among other things in their campaign... The amount of money they have raised in a matter of a few hours by thousands of anonymous cowards is disgusting." Screaming capital letters. "Cowards." "Disgusting." Those sound an awful lot like displays of hatred to me.
So, do the Christians hate the lesbians? Or is it the lesbians and their allies who hate the Christians? Who is the hater and who is the hated?
In all honesty, it shouldn't matter — because the attempt to treat hatred as a rigorous term of moral analysis is doomed to failure.
As all of us are well aware, hatred as such isn't a problem. Hating people with dark skin is bad, but hating people who hate people with dark skin is good. The same goes for hating Jews versus hating people who hate Jews.
What matters is not that we hate but what we hate.
The overwhelming majority of Americans today would agree that hating homosexuals, like hating blacks and Jews, is bad — and that hating those who hate homosexuals, like hating those who hate blacks and Jews, is good.
The problem is that it's not at all clear that rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex marriage on religious grounds is evidence of hating homosexuals — or that hating those who reject the legitimacy of same-sex marriage on religious grounds is morally justified.
What is clear is that significant numbers of gays and lesbians are intent on acting as if both were perfectly obvious, and on using the organizing power of social media to drive the point home against anyone who violates the supposedly supreme commandment against "hating" homosexuals in this very broad sense, and even against anyone who fails to express an adequate level of hatred toward these "haters."
It would be better, I think, to recognize that hatred as such isn't the problem. The problem is that those who support the legitimacy of same-sex marriage (myself included) and those who reject its legitimacy begin from very different, perhaps fundamentally incompatible moral and metaphysical assumptions. And that in many — maybe most — cases, "hate" has nothing at all to do with it.