Mind your language

by Richard on January 22, 2008

I’ve just* looked in on a pretty ugly “debate” between Christians on another blog. I was tempted to weigh in myself, but it was evident that there was a lot more heat than light being generated. It was getting very personal, very nasty - and was clearly about more than the surface issue. Not very edifying for anyone. It happens so easily on the internet; words get typed, the ’submit’ button pressed - and it’s out there. I’ve sometimes done a children’s talk with a large black piece of paper and a tube of toothpaste. The children write a message with the toothpaste, then they’re invited to put the toothpaste back. It can’t be done, any more than the damage our words do can be taken back. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve regretted my use of the keyboard. St James was right in his epistle.

Here’s what John Wesley said in part of his sermon “On the Cure of Evil-Speaking”:

And how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! Persons who differ from each other in all things else, nevertheless agree in this. How few are there that can testify before God, “I am clear in this matter; I have always set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips!” What conversation do you hear, of any considerable length, whereof evil-speaking is not one ingredient? And that even among persons who, in the general, have the fear of God before their eyes, and do really desire to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man.

And the very commonness of this sin makes it difficult to be avoided. As we are encompassed with it on every side, so, if we are not deeply sensible of the danger, and continually guarding against it, we are liable to be carried away by the torrent. In this instance, almost the whole of mankind is, as it were, in a conspiracy against us. And their example steals upon us, we know not how; so that we insensibly slide into the imitation of it. Besides, it is recommended from within as well as from without. There is scarce any wrong temper in the mind of man, which may not be occasionally gratified by it, and consequently incline us to it. It gratifies our pride, to relate those faults of others whereof we think ourselves not to be guilty. Anger, resentment, and all unkind tempers, are indulged by speaking against those with whom we are displeased; and, in many cases, by reciting the sins of their neighbors, men indulge their own foolish and hurtful desires.

Evil-speaking is the more difficult to be avoided, because it frequently attacks us in disguise. We speak thus out of a noble, generous (it is well if we do not say,) holy indignation, against these vile creatures! We commit sin from mere hatred of sin! We serve the devil out of pure zeal for God! It is merely in order to punish the wicked that we run into this wickedness. “So do the passions” (as one speaks) “all justify themselves,” and palm sin upon us under the veil of holiness!

I’m going to nail those last few sentences to my forehead! Wesley meant them about what I would call “gossip”, but I’m sure they apply to the way we conduct all our conversations, both real and virtual.

* Ok, not “just”. This is a reblog

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }


Beth 01.22.08 at 1:04 pm

I’ve found the Jewish concept of Lashon Hara to be really useful , though I’m still not very good at sticking to it…


Richard 01.22.08 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for that reminder, Beth. I seem to remember Bene Diction writing something about that, but it must have been ages ago because I can’t find it now.


DH 01.22.08 at 6:59 pm

Well, Scripture does say “Be angry and sin not.” However, I don’t believe that that means we shouldn’t say something when we observe someone hurting themself. I think it is more of before responding can we honestly saying to ourself “Am I trying to be constructive?, AmI trying to help someone?, Am I saying it in love for the person?, etc.” So the question is define evil speaking? If we say the truth in love like Scripture says then I don’t see how that can be considered evil. Now I understand that accurately decerning about the statement being from love can be wrong to. So there is a responsibility to discern ones own motives before speaking. However, if the motive is pure and no disobedience from God’s Word is brought about then how can one say what is said as evil no matter how physically negative it may be. Many things appear negative but it is for ones own good. When a parent sees a child putting their hand on a stove parents will grab the kids hand and pull it away. Under a post-modern philosophy that would be wrong but it doesn’t change the fact that the parent is saving the child from pain and thus has a better response than how a post-modern parent would respond. Just some thoughts. dh


Kelli 01.22.08 at 10:32 pm

After reading the Wikipedia entry Beth linked to, it seems that the difference lies in whether you’re just passing on gossip/idle talk, or whether you’re “warning against the possibility of future harm.” Telling someone, “Watch out, that kid is about to touch the stove” is one thing; telling someone, “That kid is stupid, he tried to touch the stove” is another.


Kim 01.22.08 at 11:22 pm

Thanks, Richard. Wesley, of course, should know! :)

And I’ll take your advice immediately and keep schtum over what DH has just written (yeah, all those idiotic postmodernists clogging up ERs with their kids’ charred hands). Just kidding DH, you contrary dude you - you know I love yah!.

And as a penance, Richard, I shall destroy a tube of toothpaste on Ash Wednesday.


Richard 01.23.08 at 12:05 am

>> “Wesley, of course, should know!”

Oh yes.


DH 01.23.08 at 2:51 pm

Kelli, I see your point and your clarifying point is wonderful. At the same time, I haven’t heard anyone use or think “stupidity” toward the “kids” (aka in relation to the analogy). I say this not to disagree all together. You made on gossip. Your explaination on it was great. I was just thinking that many people are accused of “calling kids stupid” who are in all actuality trying to “save the kids from harm”.

Kim, you know I wasn’t making a critical statement about how post-modern parents take care of their kids. I was just using an analogy on how the culture addresses serious problems with the reactions therein. I know some post-modern’s and they are wonderful parents :).

Kim, I too think of you as a good friend on this site. My wife and I keep trying, talking with all of our heart to cross the lake to the UK and it just hasn’t worked out. I truly love the UK and would love to take my wife to you guys homeland. This devaluing of the dollar is getting out of hand. :) I know your an american ex-pat but you get my drift. :)

P.S. Kim what is the term schtum? I seem to always improve my vocabulary around you whenever we discuss with each other. :)

Admin adds - Keep schtum: “Say nothing - especially in circumstances where saying the wrong thing may get you into trouble”. What an educational place this is. :)


Kim 01.23.08 at 3:31 pm

Hi DH,

I’m tempted to say use - or buy! - a dictionary, but just this once I’ll do definition. “Schtum” (or “shtum”) is a Yiddish word for keeping one’s mouth shut. It should be in every theologian’s working vocabulary!


DH 01.23.08 at 5:32 pm

Kim, I hope you didn’t take offense at me asking for a definition. I tend to think it is much more personal and collabrative to ask for a definition as opposed to looking it up. I know anybody can look up a definition but it seems to promote more dialogue, enjoyable interaction, etc. to ask directly. Ricahrd seemed to catch on and enjoyed me asking the question toward yourself. Kim, may this coming year be one of greater positive dialogue than we currently have had before. :)


PamBG 01.24.08 at 5:32 pm

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism has the following explanation for the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’: We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

The problem, of course, with quoting this commandment and it’s explanation is that I’m well aware that I do this myself.

What’s happening in general society, however, is that we have the idea that it’s actually a legitimate debating technique to say ‘How can I distort what this person said to give it the worst possible spin?’ I think Christians need to recover the idea that this approach to others is sinful.


DH 01.24.08 at 8:43 pm

Pam, I agree and that includes “How can I include a greater number of Conservative Evangelicals in the fundamentalist category who in all actuality not Fundamentalist in any way and thus giving it the worst possible spin?”


PamBG 01.25.08 at 10:56 am

DH, Sorry if you are convinced that by holding a particular definition of a word for the sake of clarity that I’m ascribing bad motives to people. That’s not my intention and no amount of you protesting that I am trying to attribute bad intentions will make it so.


DH 01.25.08 at 4:23 pm

I’m not saying you are having bad intentions but those who originally changed the definition to the current definition are the ones who had the wrong motives. You and others agreed with the current definition but don’t realize that the ones who originally changed the definition had wrong motives. See I’m not questioning your motives. I’m just addressing the fact they many, many people are accused of being fundamentalist who are in fact not. I’m just explaining how this is the case and am making an argument that we need to reclaim the original definition so as not to wrongly accuse the brethran.

I personally don’t think your definition of fundamentalist in all actuality promotes clarity. At the same time I don’t believe the reason you adhere to that definition is with wrong motive. Does that make sense? I’m sorry for my promotion of a lack of understanding from what I said. I aplogize for giving you a wrong impression. I hope this response will add clarity as to the rationale for reclaiming the original definition of fundamentalist and/or fundamentalism.

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