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“Hate the sin and not the sinner”

Have you experienced strained or broken relationships in your family or among friends because of serious differences in politics, moral values, or religious beliefs?  These differences, which are important, can sometimes make it seem impossible for two people to get along, or to relate to each other.  In a recent HSBC television commercial, however, a beautiful story is told.  Despite serious differences in values, it is possible for “opponents” to be in a relationship and to love each other.

The woman featured in the commercial – a Greenpeace activist? – engages in direct action and civil disobedience in an effort to halt deforestation.  Later, when she is bailed from jail, we learn that her partner is one of the loggers.  (As she was cuffed and hauled away, he walked past her with a chainsaw in hand.)  From the jail, they ride home on a motorcycle, showing affection for each other.  When we see their extreme differences in values, we wonder how this relationship is possible.  How could they love each other?

Mohandas Gandhi, in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, writes:

Man and his deed are two distinct things.  Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked, always deserves respect or pity as the case may be.  ‘Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.  This ahimsa [nonviolence] is the basis of the search for truth.  I am realizing every day that the search is in vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis.  It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.  For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator.

Gandhi practiced this ahimsa.  He never excluded anyone from his search for truth and struggle for justice.  He refused to build walls between himself and the “opposition.”  Instead, he listened intently for others’ values and their “pieces of the truth.”  Before making any public statements condemning police mistreatment of Indian immigrants in South Africa, Gandhi would approach the Police Commissioner, in good faith, to hear his side of the story.  If plantation laborers registered complaints about working conditions, Gandhi didn’t jump to conclusions.  He included the owners in his fact-finding mission.  Gandhi “hated the sin but not the sinner,” and we are challenged to do the same.  It is easy to be judgmental and sectarian in our fight for justice and defense of values, but Gandhi shows us another way.  His supreme confidence in the truth dispelled any fear he had of “opponents.”  In this commercial, HSBC gives us a glimpse of ahimsa in action.