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. Bill

    Omnipotent God?? Didn't foresee Adam being lonely?? Angry and surprised when Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil?

    April 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • edwardo

      And when Adam and Eve hid from him, he called "where art thou". He didn't know where they were? The story makes no sense. If Adam and Eve didn't know good from evil, how could they know the consequences of their actions. The story is so bizarre!

      April 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • JT

      There you go with that "logic" and "reason" and asking questions again. Don't you know you are on the speedy bullet train to Flame City? Enjoy hell.

      April 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • just a "biblical" theory

      let's not forget all that hardore incest that will have to happen with the grandkids. Don't worry, it's ok because its biblical and must be true.

      April 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  2. LouAZ

    Too many christians, too few lions.

    April 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • ezg437

      What about gay Jesus? Single man, 30 something, charming and good looking by most accounts, never married and no kids...running around the desert with 12 other dudes. Yup...how funny that so many so-called Christians slam gays when their very Leader was gay. Just sayin'

      April 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Matthew

      Really? You don't like what someone believes... so you think there should be more lions to eat them? That's fine if you don't agree with someone else, but to wish their death?

      April 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Observer


      You have a valid point, but underlying much of Christianity is the premise that if you don't do exactly as told, that you deserve to go to h-ll.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  3. If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

    If they can't go out and publicly make themselves feel superior by shouting down sinners how will God (& everyone else) see them and know how superior they really are & how can they earn their brownie points for God?

    April 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How sad that an omniscient being is unable to read their thoughts.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  4. Silly Guy

    LOL. Look the guy holding up "we are human" sign, looks like the person just underneath it.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • KARIM


      April 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Cris

      Holy S***, you're right!!

      April 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • ...

      "They Are Human, I'm a Cartoon!"

      April 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  5. Ashrakay

    Scientific American just published a great article you can find online stating what every atheist already knows. "Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief" I wonder if CNN will ever report on this?

    April 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

      Thanks for sharing, I'm looking that one up.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • LinCA

      You can find it here:

      April 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Uberfrog

      Good question! Faux wouldn't bring any attention to it but one would think CNN is slightly more enlightened and interested in science.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  6. revx

    No dice.

    I am agnostic, but with all due respect, I will never again play "nice" with mass-immigration zealots who have, for decades, labeled all who disagree with their destructive, extremist policies as racist, xenophobic, nativist, isolationist, etc.

    They have displayed sheer malevolence towards the US Citizenry, and I will forever identify them as the treasonous puke maggots they truly are.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • bitorbite

      Sometimes the "play nice" doesnt work in Christianity. Throughout the bible Christians were constantly entangled in physical combat at Gods command, so Christians shouldnt ask other Christians to roll over and play nice particularly when their reason is a personal or political agendaed. At some point, one has to practice "stand your faith" even against other Christians, at which point that "other" Christian will have to combat with God.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • sleepytime

      What the heck is a "puke maggot"?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And to them YOU are the "other" christian. So what gives you the authority to say you're right and they're wrong?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • longtooth

      To bitorbite, where in the New Testament does it say that God called upon Christians to do battle?

      April 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  7. stanton


    April 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • bitorbite

      If wisdom comes from a chicken, horse, cow, mule or Christian, then take it if it applies to your life. Meanwhile, if you dont you only appear more the ignorant one. If the origin of the wisdom matters to you so much that you dont take heed, then it makes you a respector of persons – meaning that you only take advise from those that you chose to respect based on your standards. So be careful when you criticize us hardworking Christians when we are out there beating the pavement to bring reproach to those that need it, even when WE need it more.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  8. Observer

    Why are there so many Christians who hypocritically pick on gays?

    Why are there so many Christians who are under the delusion that the Bible mentions abortion?

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

      I'd like to see Mr N address those questions.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • edwardo

      Xtians are unaware that their "human mind virus", wants recruits. Gays don't create babies. Xtians want to recruit people who make baby Xtians, and reject anything that "threatens their mind virus", by debunking its myths. They do it, but don't really know why. That's why... it's their disease speaking, not them.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Matthew

      What's an Xtian? Professor X start his own religion?

      April 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Observer

      "X" is the Greek "Chi".

      April 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  9. Redemption23

    You seem to believe that truth is merely determined by science or reason. Science goes beyond itself when it tries to deal with the metaphysical aspects of life. I believe in truth, just as much as anyone else, but to base it simply on the material is irresponsible. You use Laws of logic right, can you test them. Mathematics? Science itself? No.....Abstract concepts that were neither created or invented. Where did they come from?They have to be assumed before you can employ reason or use science.......and yet you do not deny them. Can't have your cake and eat it too.....

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

      Umm...logic math and science are tested all the time.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Observer

      So math doesn't have proveable laws? Get serious.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  10. Colin

    Actually Mike, you’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:

    The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

    We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe and the idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to talk about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine makes no sense to us.

    The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, [the Christian] god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

    We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

    We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”.

    We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the time and region.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more naive, timid minds among us.

    We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

    “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is almost always impossible to prove a negative in this sense.

    When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, talking snakes, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

    It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Obama is a great man because his biography says so, and the reason I believe his biography is that it is about Obama, who is a great man.”

    In short, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

    So, the next time you proudly proclaim that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine, you might like to consider where your beliefs fit into the bigger picture.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Redemption23

      Interesting how you know Nature is a mother. Is that a belief too?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • momoya

      Seriously, redemption, seriously?? That's the reply you're going with after you read each of Colin's points?. Because if you think your comment is an honest approach to Colin's rationale, you've got much bigger issues with logic than anything you got going on with your god belief.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  11. Kelly

    Anyone reading Matthew 23 would know that Jesus wasn't above name calling.

    He calls the Pharisees, hypocrites and white washed coffins among other things. This was even a generalization and not aimed at one person. On top of that he derides their religion and conversion of other. Making their converts, "twice as much a child of hell."

    I have no doubt that righteous anger is acceptable for Christians. Even name calling. The writers should find out who Jesus is before they assume too much.

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

      So name-calling and hateful language is ok if you feel justified through religion? I hope you don't have a problem when other religions do it to you.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Observer

      – Matthew 5:22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery Hell.” [Jesus]

      April 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • imuststandup

      Well, good Sir, you go on ahead and hop up on a cross to die for everyone's sins. THEN you've earned the right to call people whatever you please. 🙂

      April 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  12. Brock

    Aethiests absolutely throw christians under the bus every day with a verbaly barrage of insults. But the Bible states in 2 tim 3:12, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution". It is to be expected and as a Christian I know it is coming and my life is temporary on this earth. My joy is my Lord and Savior and I will not flee from him.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • n8263

      Non-religious people in America are more persecuted than all other minorities. According to surveys the majority of Americans think you can not be moral without a belief in god.

      Can you imagine if the majority of Americans thought blacks or hispanics could not possibly be moral people?

      April 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • edwardo

      When was the last time an athiest told you he worshipped a being, that plans to send you to an eternal lake of fire? Perhaps the insults are warranted??

      April 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • momoya

      And it's Edwardo for the "sensible reply" win..

      April 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  13. n8263

    It is surprising to see the hateful comments from Christians on these religion articles. Many are extremely judgemental. Of all people Christians should be among the least judgemental, if they bothered to actually study what Jesus taught, but it seems they are in competition with the Muslims to see who can be the most judgemental.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  14. John

    In other words, Christians should be sweet and subservient toward the pet groups of the PC liberal establishment. Contrary to modern sentimentalism which portrays Him as a gentle little muchkin in an nightgown, Christ was a man who fearlessly rebuked the establishmentarians of his day, calling them vipers, hypocrites, liars, and unwashed tombs. Read the 23rd chapter of Matthew and the 8th chapter of John if you doubt it–and recall the whip of cords He applied to the money changers.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Colin

      John, I am please you brought that up. It is one of the greatest contradictions in the 4 gospels. Matthew has Jesus doing his temple scene just before he dies. John has him doing it three years ealrier, at the very start of his ministry. That is why it appears in MAtthew 23, but only in Chapter 8 of John!

      A very large contradiction between them that is not easily explained by those who claim miraculous inspiration for the gospels.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • kyle

      Sadly the same words christ used then would be exactly the same he would use today to describe the religious establishment.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • James

      Yes, and it should be noted that Jesus wasn't accustomed to carrying a whip, so He must have been far beyond being sweet in the temple. He lacked NO objectively and He was persuasive about that! He went somewhere to get the whip, and one could plausibly infer that He meant to make a statement. No one that day doubted that He was fed up!

      I am disgusted with comments that roll all Christians into the same mold, as hateful and unloving. Those who truly follow Christ do not sling vile words and hateful demonstrations, but they do stand for their faith and what is good and acceptable to God. Mature Christians do not hate others, but they are held responsible before God to hate EVIL and love GOOD. The Bible warns us that in the End Days, many will love evil and hate good.

      Christians should not be surprised that, collectively, we are hated. As always, those who choose to magnify fringe religious nuts depict the majority of Christians, the true Body of Christ, wrongly. One day, they will see.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      "One day, they will see"
      OOOoooooo scary. What are you insinuating James?

      April 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  15. If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

    I find it ironic that people who believe in deities would call anyone anything.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • momoya

      That it MOST hilarious!! I may use that retort.

      April 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  16. Jack the Ripper

    They took errr "Job's"....Get it? Lol...

    April 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  17. n8263

    Christians are not held to a higher standard, dulouz, 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 7:17 pm |
  18. If horses had Gods ... their Gods would be horses

    Instead of "Do unto others ... " religious followers are more of a "Do as I say, not as I do" sort of crowd.

    April 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  19. brutus

    good article

    April 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  20. WW

    Jesus would be disgusted by today's so called Christians. They are a nasty bunch.

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

      and a lot of them are located within the church walls. I had the pleasure of counseling and atheist who has since repented. Their life literally took off on wings the next day after a sincere prayer the nite before, and hasnt stopped since. I think this new experience is amazing to them, as promised. Meanwhile, I found that her spirit and demeanor was more Christ-like than some of the professed Christians that I came in contact with each day. God has been using them ever since then in the most remarkable way – without them doing much at all. Dont know HIM until you try HIM.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • kyle

      Amen, but like every topic, the most vocal are always the extremists. Most christians are wonderful caring people, it's only when they publically express their religious views that you see the cognitive dissonance that exists between their brains and actions.

      April 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • ...

      stop lying.

      April 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Who's lying? Are you Jesus, ...?

      April 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
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About this blog

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.