(Lk. 14:26) Do we have to hate our parents?

CLAIM: Regarding this passage, atheist Richard Dawkins writes,

Jesus’ family values, it has to be admitted, were not such as one might wish to focus on. He was short, to the point of brusqueness, with his own mother, and he encouraged his disciples to abandon their families to follow him. ‘If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ The American comedian Julia Sweeney expressed her bewilderment in her one-woman stage show, Letting Go of God: ‘Isn’t this what cults do? Get you to reject your family in order to inculcate you?[1]

How might we respond to this accusation?

RESPONSE: In this passage, Jesus was calling for ultimate commitment. He was encouraging his disciples to put him above all else. Since God is the greatest conceivable Good, created things (even good things like friends or family) cannot come before God. Jesus said that the kingdom of God should come “first” in our lives (Mt. 6:33). If God doesn’t exist, then claims like this are bizarre and cultic as Dawkins claims. However, if God does exist, then this makes coherent sense: the greatest Good should come first in life.

When Jesus says that we should “hate” our father and mother, this isn’t a literal expression; it is figurative. In a parallel account, Jesus explains that “hate” is really not on his mind. He says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37). Jesus was using this provocative language of “hate” to demonstrate how much more we should love God above created things. Of course, the Bible teaches that we are supposed to honor our father and mother—not hate them (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2).

[1] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 284.