There’s a lot of anger online these days. Derogatory epithets1 getting spat back and forth on some social media give me that impression, anyway.
Getting angry is one thing. Staying angry is another. Hurling insults — brings me to part of today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 5:17–37. It’s from the Sermon on the Mount:
“15 16 ‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.”
“17 But I say to you, whoever is angry 18 with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, is a sort of ‘Christianity 101:’ a look at what being a Christian means. There’s with a shorter version in Luke 6:20–49.
It boils down to ‘love God, love my neighbor, everyone’s my neighbor.’ (Matthew 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Matthew 5:43–44; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–30; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)
“Raqa,”2 or “reqa,” probably meant something like “imbecile,” or “blockhead” in Aramaic. Either way, it’s offensive: and mild, compared to some of the insults I’ve seen recently.
I’m pretty sure that the idea in Matthew 5:22 is that verbal abuse is a bad idea, and we shouldn’t do it.
Worse, in a way, venting my feelings could become a bad habit: which probably involves my basal ganglia, and certainly gets harder to change as I get older.
I’ve been having a hard enough time dialing back sarcasm and other impulsive responses I’ve developed, without adding online insults to the mix.
But as long as I keep all those red-hot rejoinders I think of to myself, I’m okay: right?
Not so much.
Matthew shares a list of “woes,” really bad ideas, later: Matthew 23:13 through 35.
They’re different sides of one really bad idea, actually: putting up a virtuous front while ignoring ethical rot inside. Luke mentions the problem, too: Luke 11:34–52, and Luke 20:45–47.
“15 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
“Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”
Living in Truth
Since I take God and truth seriously, living in truth makes sense. (Romans 3:4; Catechism, 2465–2470, Catechism, 2505)
That’s why behaving myself, controlling my actions, and what happens in my heart, is important. (Matthew 15:18–19)
I’d like to say that I have achieved perfection; that my every act, word, thought, and impulse reflects nothing but love for God, neighbor, and — you get the picture. That’s not even close to being true.
I’ve talked about truth, sin, and hypocrisy, before. Basically, Holy Willie is a terrible role model. (December 4, 2016; October 23, 2016)
Love and Justice
I won’t denounce ‘those sinners over there’ because I’m one of them. (December 4, 2016; July 10, 2016)
But if I think I’m a sinner, and don’t ask God to smite offensive folks something fearful, how come I don’t keep quiet about the invective I’ve been seeing?
Forgiving others is important.
“11 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
“But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
“1 2 ‘Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
Loving my neighbor also means working for justice and bearing “witness to the truth.” (John 18:37; Catechism, 2471–2474)
Respect for the “transcendent dignity” of humanity demands that I work for justice “as far as possible.” (Catechism, 976–980, 1915, 1929–1933, 2820)
I figure that includes trying to do something about less-than-loving behavior.
For someone in my position, that includes suggesting that hurling insults is a bad idea: and acting like I believe it.
Ezekiel, Ephesians, and Me
I don’t have the sort of mandate Ezekiel got. However, I suspect that the general principle still applies, and taking a chance like this doesn’t make sense:
“If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”
I think this is good advice, too:
“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.”
I’m still working on that. Particularly removing the bitterness and anger. And that’s another topic.
More, mostly about acting like love and God matter:
- “Who is My Neighbor?”
(February 1, 2017)
- “Sin, Awareness, Repentance”
(December 4, 2016)
- “Hating People: Not an Option”
(November 15, 2016)
- “The Virtue Trap”
(October 23, 2016)
- “Trusting Feelings: Within Reason”
(October 5, 2016)
1 “Epithet” apparently doesn’t have much to do with “epaulettes,” although both came to English by way of French:
“Late 18th century: from French épaulette, diminutive of épaule shoulder, from Latin spatula in the late Latin sense shoulder blade.” (oxforddictionaries.com)
“Late 16th century: from French épithète, or via Latin from Greek epitheton, neuter of epithetos attributed, from epitithenai add, from epi upon + tithenai to place.” (oxforddictionaries.com)
2 Sound familiar? I’ve been over this before:
- “Trusting Feelings: Within Reason” (October 5, 2016)
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No wonder insulting comments, even when they’re intended to advocate really good causes, give me a sense of sick. Still, I think I struggle more with keeping too quiet, fearing harshness instead of accepting it as something I have to face eventually…
Indeed. I’m concerned too, sometimes, about not saying enough about widely-accepted bad ideas.
On the other hand, I’ve seen too many overly-zealous folks who “advocate really good causes” – – – but in a way that can make me wish I *didn’t* almost agree with them.
‘Fire and brimstone’ was a big hit in Jonathan Edwards’ day, and still is for some. Not many, I think, and not if it’s directed at what they enjoy.
I don’t see a point in saying something that’s true, if I say it in a way other’s aren’t likely to believe – – – or, worse, in a way that may encourage others to believe the opposite.
What I usually do these days is talk about *why* something is a good or a bad idea. It seems like a better fit – – – with my talents, and with today’s culture.
Yeah, you’re pretty good at explaining and arguing stuff, alright. It reminds me of what Chesterton’s seemingly nondescript Father Brown once said about denying reason being bad theology. And hey, more people are more into logic and reason these days, religious or not, it seems. So yeah, keep up the learning and doing, good sir. 🙂