Our Take: Name-calling is ‘rhetorical pornography’
Protesters from both sides of the immigration issue fill a sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday.
April 26th, 2012
12:12 PM ET

Our Take: Name-calling is ‘rhetorical pornography’

Editor’s note: Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, Dr. Russell Moore is dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

By Jim Daly, Russell D. Moore and Samuel Rodriguez, Special to CNN

(CNN) – We've all heard it, since we were schoolkids knocking about on the playground: "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." A saying with good intent, to be sure, designed to steel young minds, and hearts, against the inevitable bruises that come with sharing childhood and adolescence with other children and adolescents.

But did any of us ever believe it was true? Even today – now that we're older, hopefully wiser, having experienced the heartaches of everyday life more fully than we may have as kids – is it a statement we can stand behind?

We don't think so.

Just about every day, a quick scan of the news headlines or a couple of keystrokes for a Google search serve up stories proving this old adage false. The evidence can come from picket signs, talk-show sound bites or something as short and simple as a 140-character tweet.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Clashes in Arizona over immigration policy. Public arguments over homosexuality in California. Christians and atheists lobbing verbal firebombs at each other in Washington, D.C. Sometimes, those at the center of the name-calling are famous. Most of the time, they aren’t. Well-known or not, their actions prove a singular truth: Names do hurt – and not just those on the receiving end of them.

To borrow the point of another, more accurate old aphorism: What we say about others reveals more about ourselves than the people we're talking about. This is especially true for Christians, who encounter any number of verses in the Bible that point to how "sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness," as the English Standard Version translation of Proverbs 16:21 puts it.

Jesus, as tended to be his way, was a bit more direct: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken," he said in Matthew 12:36, adding: "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

So, no, it is not news to any of us that we live in an electrocharged public square.

But it should be convicting to all Christians when we find ourselves contributing to this maelstrom. Derogatory terms for other human beings – regardless of how widely their views differ from ours or, more importantly, from the truths of Scripture – should never pass our lips. To call it rhetorical pornography, for the debasement it engenders, is not an overstatement.

To get into the terms specifically here would be to attach to them a dignity they don't deserve. But we know them when we hear them: Epithets and cutting adjectives directed at gays and lesbians that go far beyond reasoned articulation of our biblical views about God's design for human sexuality.

Cruel, dismissive descriptions of those who do not share our faith – whether they be of a different religion or none at all – serving to drive people further from the heart of Christ, the exact opposite of our calling as his modern-day disciples.

And, perhaps most distressingly, ethnic slurs against noncitizens in our country, people who, in many cases, are families just like our own, seeking the best quality of life they can achieve. How do those hurtful words address the deeper and quite nuanced issues of legality and border integrity?

What each of these instances has in common is that the words are being used to deny the innate humanity and dignity owed every individual. The Jesus we follow did not just die for those who believe in him; his father created each one of us in his own image.

That means that as Christ breathed his last on the cross, there was as much love in his heart for the homosexual activist, the Mexican national who is not a citizen and the atheist as there was for us.

It is out of the "overflow of the heart," Jesus says in Matthew 12, that "the mouth speaks." That means it is far more than a failure of "tone" when we marginalize or malign those with whom we disagree. The solution is not just "nicer" words, but a transformed perspective, one that sees all human beings, including “opponents,” through the eyes of our proponent, Jesus.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (1,241 Responses)
  1. dulouz

    Why are atheists allowed to speak? There is no point, Atheists conjure morality as they wish, without scientific basis. Is there a scientific basis that say murder is wrong? No, there is not but Atheists will pitch their non scientific beliefs in public.

    The art is is full of false witness. You will have to determine a method of airing of grievances. Bullying is out of fashion.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • n8263

      Christians are not held to a higher standard, Doobie, they hold themselves to an arbitrary standard. You could believe in a religion where it is unethical to wear black shoes on Mondays, you must eat blueberries on Fridays or something really ridiculous like it is immoral for consenting adults to have non-marital sex.

      This is not a higher standard, it is an arbitrary one.

      Religious moral codes lack reason and thus lack objectivity. Reason and objectivity are necessary to establish a scale of morality and therefore determine what a "higher" standard is.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Colin

      "Atheists conjure morality as they wish"".

      I have never understood why so many theists feel the need to attribute their morality to a third party supernatural being of one stripe or another. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its dreams, hopes and prejudices. What, do they all exist? If not, why only yours?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Ridiculous. There is no evidence that believers are more moral than atheists. None.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

      dulouz ... of course there is a scientific basis for morality .. it's called sociology and evolutionary psychology. Morality has been around longer than religion.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Mr. N


      It's not a matter of a need to attribute morality to a supernatural being. It's a matter of grounding that morality. For example, you can claim that you have a right to life, but without a supernatural authority to ground that claim to, you no longer have a right of any sort. Yeah, it'd be inconvenient for you to die, and a loss to the society that would permit it (not only a physical loss, but an erosion of the social norms that keep that society together), but you couldn't claim a "right" as it's commonly understood: Natural and unalienable. Nature affords no rights to anybody or anything, and most certainly, nothing in nature is unalienable. At most, without a supernatural grounding to morality, you'd have norms and conventions, but no true "rights" in the full sense of the word.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      Likely a troll.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      More idiocy. The laws we established give us a right to life, along with a number of other rights. There's no need for some supernatural being for people to be guaranteed rights.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

      Mr. N ... these "rights" you speak of ARE man made from our own code of social conduct in perpetuating continuation of the species. So called "God given" rights are no more real than God itself.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  2. n8263

    Redemption23, religion is dangerous because it is arbitrary not the other way around.

    Ultimately any source of morality must be based on reason. Looking to the myths of an ignorant iron age society for answers is no better than looking to the stars as astrologists do.

    It is just as irrational to think it is unethical for consenting adults to have non-marital sex as it is to think the Earth is flat.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Mr. N

      And modern religious morality is not based on reason?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Mr. N

      For fundamentalists it is based on a 2000 year old book sritten by multiple men over decades from oral histories distorted over many more years.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Mr. N

      HawaiianGuest, you did not answer my question. My question is simple: What modern religion, let's say, Christianity or Judaism (won't talk about others because of lack of familiarity) has a morality based on purely arbitrary rules that cannot be grounded on reason?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      When there are religious nuts who think dancing and birthdays are sinful, you ask if religious morality is based on reason?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Mr. N, you were already given an example: Christianity regards extra-marital s3x as morally wrong. There's no 'reason' behind that. It's arbitrary.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Every Abrahamic religion takes their morality from that book I mentioned in my last post. Look at Catholics, their "morality" is based on what a single man "says" god told him, and on interpretations of the same scripture that christians use. The morality they take is from an immoral source, and not based on what reason tells them, rather what their preacher or that book tells them.
      That answer your question?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  3. Analoger

    Definitely words which promote profound thinking!

    April 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  4. reader10

    Religion is like radioactive.It is poison.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  5. NorCalMojo

    These guys are wimps.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  6. pbando

    Honestly one of the greatest articles I've read. All Americans need to respect others' religious beliefs and not try and impose them. Only then will true peace be found.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Rhonda

      The only people who are trying to impose their religion on anyone is Muslims.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Michael

      Rhonda, you must never have met a Christian if you think that.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  7. John

    Heretic! (How's that one for you, gents?)

    April 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    Lets just take religion out of the equation for the time being and concentrate on the problems facing the country. Right now political decisions are very important for the survival of the United States. Forget Catholicism.....Protestantism......Mormon.......Muslim......and lets get to the core

    April 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  9. Margaret

    Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. [Matthew 7:12] – by Bible. Or how about
    "Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."(Leviticus 19:18 How much better off would we all be if we all practiced these simple concepts. If we all just obeyed the 10 commandments just think the crime problem would just about disappear. Dream on.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  10. REALLY ?!?

    I have noticed that when a person starts a statement with "I'm a Christian" they generally really are not. They think that because THEY think they are saved no matter what they do that they can. How wrong they are. None of them really practice the teachings of Christ.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  11. Redemption23

    Colin....Bart Erhman? LMAO A guy who was whining about getting passed over by a very prominent Theological University, decides to take it out on Jesus because people weren't playing nice. Yeah, you chose a great resource for truth.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • sam

      Did you get that off wikipedia?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Colin

      I don't know Ehrman's history, but I doubt he would be teaching at UNC, selected by the Teaching Company (who are pretty good at choosing their academics) and widely respected for his academic excellence if he was as easily dismissed as you say.

      Certainly, the lectures of his I have heard contain nothing that would cause me to disregard him so readily. Let's not fall for the trap of dismissing the opinion of somebody because he tells us something we do not want to hear.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  12. aliceventuri

    Well that's just great. It's been okay for the last :::umpity-mumble::: years for these guys to demonize folks they disagreed with, yet now, all of a sudden, everybody's got to stop with the name-calling. So what really happened? Who got under their collective skin so badly that they feel the need to throw a hissy-fit about "hurtful words?" These guys have done their own fair share – and more! – of name-calling and "hurtful words" tossing. They are hypocrites, no more and no less.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Michael

      They looked around and saw people noticing all the bodies of dead kids piling up and figured they better start covering their butts.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Mr. N

      Has it ever occurred to you that there are many of "these guys" who do walk the walk, and some that are loud and grab the headlines, that don't, and that such has been the case for so long. By over-generalizing that "these guys" are all a certain way, you have shown yourself to be as intolerant and bigoted as those you criticize.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  13. Jesus Loves You

    Christ's message was not one of love. Jim Daly is leading us astray.

    He taught us to be judgemental and hate people different from us, like gays, abortion doctors, Mexicans and non-believers. He told us to uphold the laws of the god of Abraham, the ones that tell us to murder adulterers and non-believers. He told us that if we do not praise and worship and hand our lives over to him he will send us to burn in a lake of fire and acid, not for a while but forever. We need to follow Christ's lead and hate anybody who rejects our faith and uses reason instead.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Will Robison

      Have you read the Bible? I thought at first that you were being sarcastic. Jesus said NONE of the things you say he said. I suggest you go back and read the darn book before you start quoting from it.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Michael

      Now this is more like the Christian talk I'm used to hearing. Come on brother, lets hear it...

      April 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Rob

      You are crazy and need help. I can't believe you think that is valid.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  14. James C Edgar

    Hunh. Well, its nice to know some "people of faith" think its okay to reject saying and believing negative things about people who are different. Oh wait, naw I was wrong. Sorry, I thought I just saw some Rabbi leave his cave and go to heaven. Maybe he left some words to live by? Oh, people wouldn't do that. Hey, in the sky, over there. Does that say, "The far right will cause my return?" And they aint goin!

    April 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  15. Thor4

    Everyone has a right to believe what they want. There is not anyone who can say whether or not you are wrong or right in your belief. I do not know of anyone, here on earth at this moment, who has come back to earth from the dead to tell people the truth on whatever happens when one dies.. No one has the right to tell people what they should or should not believe.. That is your right and your right only.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • me

      no exactly – billions of people have died and NOT ONE has come back – that seems like a pretty good reason to believe that the reason they aren't coming back is because they can't, i.e., they are dead, dead as a rock! Religion is made up garbage – a tool used to control the stupid!!!

      April 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Chris

      Are you telling me what I should believe?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  16. Faithful

    I agree. It is sad when Christians do not live as Christ would. Every time a Christian sins it is the same as calling the blood of Christ unclean. It is a rebuke even in my own life to live as a true believer in Jesus Christ. I encourage those who also confess Jesus Christ to be Lord in their life to do the same.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  17. vtxrider

    Interesting letter considering that Focus on the Family has been part of the problem. They continue to push an "us vs them" view of things. Also, I don't trust any religious organization that attempts to force others to live by their beliefs. The political activities of this organization do just that. Try to make their religious value American law. Very, very dangerous.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Bruce

      I think that's true of Dobson, though I'm not sure that this Daly guy is following in Dobson's footsteps. I haven't heard as much vitriol out of Focus on the Family as I did when Dobson was in charge.

      We'll see I guess...

      April 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Rob

      I have never heard that one from FOF. Just how to help your marriage, make time for your kids, what movies don't have foul language, ops the list is blank. Sad that there are only about 2 movies a year to take young kids to see. You just have to show up after all the offensive previews.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  18. asdf

    What?? Some Christians ignore obvious, moral commands of their religion when it suits them? Say it ain't so!!

    April 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  19. Keith

    When Christians start walking their walk and talking their talk, I might pay a little attention to them. I am quite sure we will all be enjoying the afterlife before that happens.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  20. bitorbite

    "sweetness of speech increases pursuasiveness" – one needs to use discernment with this verse to understand that usually there is a personal agenda involved with sweet speech..... if someone speaks sweetly, it is best to run for cover these days (aka..the "friends in need"). Promiscious folk use the sweet speech talent often to find and capture their prey. However, if sweetness of speech is being used for the purposes of Almighty Gods will, then how sweet the speaking should be and the more the better! But on the other hand..if the sweetness is, commonly, for that personal agenda – then it may have to be classified as "careless speech" instead, of which one will be held accountable for.

    April 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Keith

      What language are you speaking?

      April 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.