"Tastes like hate" was scrawled on a Torrance, California, Chick-Fil-A in a hip graffiti style after supporters of the company's president Dan Cathy, and his pro-traditional marriage position, queued up at Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the country.
But before ideological gourmets report their palate opinions they should do some comparison tasting. They may discover that Cathy's menu fare does not taste like hate after all.
What really tastes, smells, and looks like hate is Wade Michael Page's slaughter of Sikh worshippers at their Wisconsin temple on August 5. Or socialist-hating Anders Behring Breivik's murderous rampage in Norway in 2011.
Equating Cathy's position with Page's or Breivik's trivializes the concept of hate, blunts and diffuses its meaning. Put a pinch too much salt on a boiled egg and even the little bit bites. Diffuse the same pinch on the Pacific Ocean and the salt loses its saltiness, to paraphrase Jesus.
Years ago William Bennett and others contemplated the state of public education, and wrote of the "dumbing down of America." Now we are living in the age of the "numbing down" of our culture. As strong words that once carried a punch are trivialized and diffused, their sharp edge is dulled, and people are desensitized to the warnings and truths they carry.
Chick-Fil-A in policy and practice is non-discriminatory. It teaches its employees the principle that "a soft answer turns away wrath," as a Tucson employee named Rachel demonstrated when berated by a man who disagreed with Cathy's traditional marriage philosophy at her drive-up window. To use "hate" to describe people like Dan Cathy and his family, who've built Chick-Fil-A and its values, is to rob the word of its intent. It is a form of reductionism, and reductionism always shrinks the essence of whatever is minimized. Ultimately, the terms we trivialize become meaningless.
For example, these days "awesome" can refer to the grandeur of a cosmic formation photographed by the Hubble telescope, or to a chocolate chip cookie. That puts the cookie and the galaxy on the same level of awe-inspiring marvel. The result is numbness to that which is truly awesome. We lose the sense of wonder when a tasty lump of sugary dough embedded with chocolate is the equivalent of the spinning cluster of trillions of stars sparkling in the backdrop of deep space.
So we no longer feel the sting, the urgency, the warning, the shame, the evil, the foreboding danger of true "hate" when we diffuse and trivialize it.
In some cases diffusion and trivialization become the elements of "disinformation" or "disambiguation." This psychological sleight-of-hand manipulates words, ideas, and meanings until fact becomes fiction and fiction fact.
Consider a man named Alex. He and his wife showed up one day at a church I served as pastor. "I am HIV-positive," Alex told me, right up front. He described how he had practiced a lifestyle with high risk of AIDS until he experienced a radical, transforming encounter with Christ. But he had left the hazardous behavior too late, and the disease was advancing in his body. In the years remaining to him, Alex wanted to launch a ministry to help AIDS victims, no matter what their beliefs about God.
Ultimately our church became the base for Alex' ministry. Many of our members drove AIDS patients to physicians' appointments, changed their bed linens, cleaned their homes, and brought them food and medicine. No one preached at them, judged or condemned them. But at least a dozen were baptized in our church before they died.
Alex was indeed a hater. He loathed the disease that destroyed those people he loved so much – and taught us to love. AIDS reduced Alex to skin and bones, but at his memorial service I told the audience, "We have lost a giant."
Some in contemporary culture might label Alex a practitioner of "hate." In doing so they would demean a man who loved people profoundly, and empty the word "hate" of its putrid meaning.
We need this term in all its reeking stench so we can understand just how repugnant real hate is. To trivialize and diffuse the word is a disservice to society.
That really tastes bad.