We Christians are called to love people, and as I understand it, this includes loving people who believe differently than we do. I'm not sure how we can love atheists if we don't like them.Now, these words are in direct contradiction to a mantra I heard quite a bit while I was in college: "You don't have to like someone to love them." I've always taken that mantra as recognizing at least a couple of different realities: 1) We can (and should!) exercise acts of love to people whom we don't know. 2) Perhaps in keeping with the command to "love our enemies," we can (and should!) seek God's best for even those whom we may personally dislike. The words of the Christianity Today article would seem to challenge some of that wisdom.
As I've reflected on the distinctions between "loving" and "liking" people, and how those things might (or might not) interact with each other, the issue that rises to the surface for me becomes an issue of priorities and intentionality. I expect that it's unrealistic to suggest that we should "like" everyone. It's just not going to happen for the vast majority of us. Yet the command to "love" everyone remains.
The "loving without liking" suggestion gives us a way of reconciling those realities in a way that most of us can live with. Unfortunately, it also allows us an easy "out" of not trying hard enough to seek common ground with people with whom we differ. Most of us may be able to ensure that we don't do anything actively harmful to a person whom we dislike, but it's obviously far easier for us to simply disengage from relationship with such a person than to actively work toward that person's benefit (even if working toward such benefit does nothing to injure our own position, whatever that may be).
Clearly, learning to like someone so different than us is hard, and we're not going to succeed all the time. It doesn't happen without effort and encouragement. An article I was reading recently on the whole "Bert and Ernie" kefluffle, discussing why having the Sesame Street Muppets get married as a gay couple is a bad idea, wholly separate from any issues of morality, demonstrates some of this point:
Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.The writer of the article is concerned that any effort to sexualize Bert and Ernie's relationship makes it that much harder for us to convey messages of platonic friendship, and specifically friendship with people who are very different from us, to our children. Think of Bert and Ernie as a Republican and a Democrat. In our current political milieu, it's becoming harder and harder to imagine such people as even getting along, let alone being "best friends." But we need to know such things are possible. It encourages us to keep trying to seek that common ground, to keep actively working toward each other's best interests.
That's what true love is really all about. It's about the effort. It is often said that "love is a verb." If we can cultivate a more positive attitude toward those whom we are called to love—if we learn to "like" them—the action implied by being a verb becomes that much easier to do.