Skip to comments.Biblical teaching on the use of colorful and harsh language.
Posted on 02/19/2014 1:50:16 AM PST by markomalley
In the Gospel from Last Sunday the Lord warns of using uncivil and/or hateful words such as (Raqa and fool). And yet the same Lord Jesus often used very strong language toward some of his opponents sometimes calling them names such as vipers, hypocrites and tombs.
We live in a world that often insists on the use of gentle language and euphemisms. While not a bad thing, we also tend to manifest a kind of thin-skinned quality and a political correctness that is too fussy about many things, often taking personally what is not meant personally.
What is the overall teaching on Scripture when it comes this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Lets take a look.
The word civility dates back to about the mid 16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate, at least historically, was governed by a tendency to be highly nuanced, careful, cautious, formal and trained in rhetorical skill. Its rules were also prone to refer to ones opponents by honorary titles (Doctor, professor etc.) and euphemisms such as my worthy opponent. Hence, as the word enters into ordinary usage it comes to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle and measured.
As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variances in what is considered to be civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data of what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st century America. The scriptures, to include the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus for example as we have seen, really mixes it up with his opponents and even calls them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end a balance of the Scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.
Lets examine a few of the texts that counsel charity and a modern and American notion of civility:
So, all these texts counsel a measured, charitable and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.
But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Biblical data as well. And, a lot of it from an unlikely source, Jesus. Paul too who wrote many of the counsels above often manifests strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus then by Paul and other Apostles:
Now, most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse. Are they sinful? They are Gods word! And yet, they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21 Century mind
I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way to illustrate the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil. The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. I remember dating an Italian girl for a brief time back in college. I remember being at her house and how she and her mother could really go at it with a heated debate (usually in Italian Mama Mia!). But no sooner had they very intensely argued over some particular point, say of preparing the meal, than they were just fine, as if nothing had happened. Angry discourse was more normal for them.Even in this country there are regional differences about civility. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper Midwest and parts of the Deep South conversation is more gentle and reserved.
At the time of Jesus angry discourse was apparently more normal for, as we see, Jesus himself engages in a lot of it, even calling them names like, Hypocrites. Brood of Vipers, Liars, Wicked etc. Yet, the same scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that he never sinned. Hence, at that time such terms were not considered sinful to utter.
Jesus also engaged in prophetic actions like overturning the tables in the temple courts. No one said hed done wrong, they just wondered where he got the authority to do this (cf Mark 11:28). In that culture prophets did things like this. No one liked it, but just like our culture tolerates some degree of civil disobedience, even reveres it, Jesus culture expected things like this from prophets.
Careful -Now be careful here. I am not saying it is OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then, we live now, and in our culture such dialogue is almost never acceptable. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard to define things is I know when I see it. So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly, we tend today, to prefer a gentler discourse.
On the other hand, as already observed we also tend to be a little thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are so easily outraged (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we easily presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further and charges of hate and intolerance go back and forth where there is simply sincere disagreement.
Balance - The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less hyper-sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be clarity with charity, the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. Perhaps an old saying comes to mind: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but dont say it mean.
Msgr Pope ping
If I stub my toe, hit my thumb with a hammer or spill a cup of coffee and there’s no one else in the room, does my use of colorful and harsh language make a sound?
Only your pets know for sure.
“Only your pets know for sure.”
And when the dog leaves a big steaming pile for me to step in, I must’ve had it coming. It’s kind of like thinking that if I curse the weather, it’ll just get worse. Not really but...
I have a cat who leaves me a Spew at least once a day.
Much from American cultural heritage comes from America’s Christian past. It is Christian Civilization that is civil; not pagan, not Jewish, not Buddhist nor what have you.
Jesus teaches civility because He wants us to build a Christian Civilization, much unlike the one He walked in.
If the gang of obamabots gets its way, American civility will be gone in short order.
I believe there is a time and place for expressing anger and the use of profanity can help articulate that. In other words, it helps to get their attention.
Much of the “gentleness” of the culture is just the dominant femininity of the culture. But we can’t be light and salt without stepping on toes. God tells us to warn of the wrath to come and that’s not a popular message, not when people love their sin. We also can’t adequately conduct church discipline without stepping on toes and casting the unrepentant from us.
I try to tell people outright that the language they just heard offends me and leave it at that.
Sometimes I will just walk away.
The Ten Commandments
1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
There is another applicable Biblical reference in Deuteronomy 23 where God requires his people to dig a hole and relieve themselves outside the camp and refers to their waste as “indecent.”
I agree that it is indecent and I don’t enjoy hearing it inserted into the conversation with vulgar language.
Being offended by something doesn’t mean you think you are somehow “better” or more holy than anyone else. We are all condemned sinners having no righteousness of our own. However, as we put on the righteousness of Christ and grow in our faith, we become more sensitive to the contrast between the sacred and the profane.
Thanks. How much do I owe you?
I try not to use bad language, but if I hear terrible news or hear something outrageously stupid(like from you know who) then sometimes one or two just slip out.
Here’s a story. A long time ago I was involved in a political forum of libertarian persuasion, now defunct. The forum got overrun by diverse opinion-makers, none of them really libertarian and most just posted whatever would pop in their heads. Some were outright disruptive. It became impossible to have a calm discussion about anything. I was trying to impress on the forum management that posts must be moderated so that disruptions, — offtopic posts, large graphics, flamebaits, personal attacks — are edited or removed. I had no luck with that proposition, so I changed the tactic: I started using abusive language myself whenever I felt like it. From a generally polite guy that most people know me I became an embodiment of Tourette syndrome. And — nothing happened. The management just accepted the fact that I use foul language. No moderation was introduced, I got myself a bad reputation, and the forum folded.
The moral of this story? I don’t think foul language is ever useful. It just lowers the plank for everyone else.
I get the impression that just talking about the use of profanity (without having given examples here) and expression of anger (without having done so here) is tantamount to the actual use of profanity and actual expression of anger here in this thread. If I let it happen elsewhere then why should anyone else here be concerned? I’m no less a civilized American citizen for it.
Personally, I think the whole idea of “zero tolerance” appeals to ‘maturity snobs’ more than anyone else and that it does more harm than good.
I disagree that talking about a form of speech is the same as using it. The former does not expand the vocabulary of the thread. Similarly talking about murder is not the same as committing murders.
Just as having conversations about race (Holder, Obama) and “climate change” (Obama, Kerry) does nothing to
solve any of those so-called problems no matter how far they think it takes them.