Israel Folau's warning to certain sinner is for him an act of love, not hate. So how important is intent when it comes to calling something 'hate speech'?
The other Sunday evening, a few of us at church were talking about Israel Folau’s recent post warning drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators that they are hell-bound if they don’t repent and get themselves saved.
We are a conservative outfit. We largely agree with Folau, though we may differ from his emphasis on hell (seeing it as an unlikely outcome) and would prefer to draw a list of actions rather than a list of people. On the latter point, we rely on the old motto “Hate the sin, not the sinner”, which is similar to the atheists’ “We attack ideas, not people” and to the more everyday “Play the ball, not the player”.
We don’t think Folau makes his moral point in a very helpful way because Hell is so dramatic and such a can of worms in terms of Christian doctrine. However, if his post boils down to a moral assertion, we believe the actions implied in his list – adultery, fornication (eg pre-marital sex), same-sex physical intimacy, lying etc – are morally wrong.
This is essentially what Folau is saying and much of it aligns with mainstream Christian thinking. And, if it matters, with much mainstream Muslim thinking. I can’t make such a confident statement about secular thinking because it hasn’t settled sufficiently: a secularist might agree with some items and not with others.
To say that an action is wrong is not to express hatred of the actor. It’s a pity that I must bother to say so, as the distinction is painfully obvious, but nowadays it does appear necessary. This is just a moral judgement of actions. It may be, in part, an unpopular moral judgement in some circles, but that’s all it is.
People who believe in an objective morality (as some atheists, like Sam Harris, are trying to stitch together) can argue against theistic moral doctrines. People who believe morality is subjective or relative can’t sensibly contribute much at all to this discussion: as soon as they say some action is “okay”, they depart from their own position.
In any case, I cannot discern any hatred of people in Folau’s post. On the contrary, he’s throwing all these “sinners” what he sees as a lifeline (a lifeline that is perfectly real to him), which is not something you do to someone you hate.
His position is like that of someone who sees a bus driving headlong towards the edge of a cliff that the driver and passengers can’t see. If he hated the people in the bus, he’d enjoy the spectacle of it going over the edge: instead, he issues a warning.
His post is even headed “Warning”.
Whatever we decide to call “hate speech”, it does need to include an element of hatred, doesn’t it?