The Opposite of Love Is…Indifference?

I’m reading a biography of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and a prolific author.  The book is Michael Mott’s The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton.  On page 316, Mott quotes the following from one of Merton’s books, Thoughts in Solitude:

“Those who do not love, hate.  In the spiritual life there is no such thing as an indifference to love or hate.  That is why tepidity (which seems to be indifferent) is so detestable.  It is hate disguised as love.”

Similarly, pastor and author John MacArthur, Jr. says this here:

Do you honestly care about other believers or are you cold, uncaring, and indifferent? Do you have a desire to reach out and meet their needs? Those who don’t care are spiritually dead, characterized by an ongoing hatred. In our sophisticated age, that is manifested not so much in vitriolic hostility as in an utterly self-centered approach to life. People who continually focus on themselves and couldn’t care less what happens to anyone else are of their father the devil, who ‘was a murderer from the beginning’ (John 8:44). As believers, however, ‘we know love by this, that [Christ] laid down His life for us’ quite the opposite of the devil’s murderous character. Therefore, ‘We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’ (1 John 3:16).”

These passages remind me of the cliche that “the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”  I’ve seen TV shows about this.  A son hates his mother, and his mother actually thinks that’s a good thing, because the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.  If he hates, that shows he still cares.

The reason that the Thomas Merton quote stood out to me is that, lately, I have been rather indifferent towards certain people and have considered that to be a good thing.  At least I am not seething in resentment against them!  At least indifference allows me to have a certain peace of mind!  I can think about certain people from my past and be happy that I do not have to see them anymore, and just let them go their way, while I go mine.  Why should I beat myself up for not having benevolence in my heart towards them?  Actually, when would I be better able to meet their needs were I to encounter them or to be asked by them for help: when I am seething against them, or when I have a placid indifference?  Probably the latter, unless I am called upon to make a great sacrifice.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that the way to cure a grudge against a person is to pray for him or her.  More than one person has testified that this approach works.  Essentially, over a period of time, you pray for the person and wish for him or her the things that you desire for yourself.  This approach is not placid indifference towards the other person but is an attempt to cultivate some benevolence in one’s heart, to humanize the other person, if you will.  At the same time, I doubt that the Big Book is expecting the person with the grudge to think about that other person all of the time.  What we’re talking about here, it seems to me, is a method to cure resentment, which can drive an alcoholic to drink.

Personally, I find indifference to be a step up from hatred.  Yet, I do not want to be at a place where I am totally callous towards others and self-absorbed.  Benevolence towards those I dislike, however, is too saintly for me.  For that, I need divine grace, and that is something for me to pray for.  In the meantime, as I do that, I will celebrate whatever placid feelings I have.  Maybe I can remind myself that God loves me and those I dislike, and that can cultivate a greater love in my heart.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to The Opposite of Love Is…Indifference?

  1. Lovely discussion James 🙂


  2. Pingback: Book Write-Up: The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton | James' Ramblings

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