On the Violence of Words
My mind has been moved of late to thoughts of language, our use and abuse of it, its power, etc. A couple of months ago Sam Rocha wrote a three part series on words and meaning in the abortion dialogue. More recently, David Wheeler-Reed has noted how often we, as Catholic Christians, tend to abuse language and inflict verbal violence upon each other in comboxes and other media. He has noted how this violence breaks Jesus’ “RACA principle.”
Language is a very powerful gift. It, among other things, sets us apart from animals. (See Percy’s excellent book Lost in the Cosmos). The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, is the Word, the Logos of God. We, as personal beings created in the image of God, an image in which the Word became flesh, have been given the gift and the power of participation in the Word. As personal beings, beings who find oursleves in sincere self-gift, we are made for communion and communication. Language is sacred.
Yet so often we abuse it. Instead of being a bridge for communion, we pervert it into a weapon for building a web lies or for shredding reputations and inflicting lasting wounds. We do this out of some misplaced sense of self-perservation. I am important, we say. I must win this argument. I must not be proven wrong. I have the power to overcome, to be victorious and successful in this situation. The violence of our words reveals the idolatry in our hearts. Because we see ourselves as more important that the other, indeed as more than God (at least in that moment), we pervert his gift and use it to inflict harm upon his Body.
If we lived as members of the Body, members who died with Christ in Baptism who are merely awaiting our deaths in hope of our own bodily resurrection, if we lived in the spirit of gratuitous gift which Pope Benedict spoke of his new encyclical, we would have no self-preservation reflex which prompts us to use our words to destroy our interlocutors. Our faith would be rooted in the Resurrection giving us trustworthy hope and the freedom to love boldy enough to bear integral Christian witness.
Let us learn to be peacmakers and to use our words to build peace and communion in a world of deceit and destruction.