It's been almost 13 years since our family moved from Edinburgh to live in Russia. This is where our eldest, Sophia, has grown up and her two sisters were born. This is where we have sent our children off to nursery and now school, where most of my working life has been spent.
The phenomenon known as re-entry is well-known, although there may be other terms for it. In a nutshell it is the reverse culture-shock felt by someone 're-entering' their own culture having spent time abroad in another culture. We feel it each time we go back. As a linguist, one of the main criteria of culture for me is language.
I noticed one year how the exclamation 'perfect!' was now being used as it is hadn't been before we left. Now the word 'hate' has changed its meaning. 'Hate' as in 'hate-crime'. As such this is nothing new. Even back in antediluvian 2004 there was a concept of murder or assault committed for reasons of discrimination, for example on the basis of race. But the word 'hate' has now assumed a new dimension of meaning. Not for the first time I am being accused of hatred.
I don't hold much store for it myself, but there is plenty of research out there to suggest that religious faith might be pre-programmed genetically and identifiable biologically. For those of us who follow the thinking of Augustine and Calvin there is even the doctrine of election to bear in mind. But whether or not religious faith can or cannot be reduced solely to a personal choice, it is a very deep-seated part of a believer's identity. By no means dissimilar to sexual orientation. And it is a fundamental human right to believe or not believe - and all the associated freedoms which go along with that, including the right to non-coercively persuade others of my religious beliefs.
Now for a whole set of reasons both sociological and theological, I do not believe that religious faith should be imposed on anyone and that others have a right to believe or not believe. While God may command us, Repent and believe the gospel, that very command presupposes the freedom not to obey. To put it in starker terms freedom of religion means the freedom for someone else not to 'accept' what I believe, or to question whether I really do believe in the way I claim to and even to hold out hope that I might change my belief. None of this is a threat to my freedom of religion. Or, to put it another way, none of this constitutes 'hatred'.
Hatred is the opposite of love. Love seeks the good of its object. In Christian terms it is what Paul extols in the 13th chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians and what is supremely expressed in the person of Jesus Christ and in his great act of self-giving love for the rescue of the world. To hate is to will someone ill, to want to get rid of them, to rob them of their personhood and, perhaps more chillingly, to be indifferent towards them.
It is a very serious accusation being levelled at Christians that we 'hate' particular groups of people, in particular those who self-identify as gay or transsexual. I don't think we do hate them, do we?
"God is love."