Thursday, April 17, 2008

Name Calling and the End of Discussion

This week at small group, we watched a DVD in which the preacher listed off various types of questionable characters. It went something like this: liars, thiefs, liberals, vegetarians. I kid you not. Instead of getting mad, in honor of this profoundly ridiculous statement, I thought I'd post a section of Hope Lives that was cut because they feared I was ranting again...which I was. (See granola above for example of proper name calling.)

Name Calling and the End of Discussion
There’s a dirty little habit some of us Christians have gotten into: name calling. It’s one of the most basic human instincts. When we feel threatened by someone or something, we lash out—like the 8 year old on the playground who is teased and replies, “Well, you’re a…you’re a…stupid-face.”

We do the same thing when confronted with ideas that don’t fit into our current spiritual schema. If someone reads Jesus’ words about helping the poor and is inspired to act to end environmental practices that are hurting the poor, he is, sadly, likely to hear from some Christians, “Oh, so you’re a hippy now?” Or someone who wants to change the devastating impact certain business practices are having on West Africans will hear, “What are you, a communist?” Or someone who begins to question our luxurious American lifestyle will hear, “You’re one of those America-haters?” Or (added in honor of the aforementioned preacher) someone who doesn't want to buy meat raised in inhumane ways that also damages the environment will hear, "stay away from that liberal vegetarian!"

The names go on and on….liberal, right winger, fundamentalist, democrat. Chances are that in your church some of the labels have been deemed the good guys, and the others the bad guys. And if you want to shut someone up and end discussion, calling someone a name from the other camp is the way to do it. Instead of discussing the issue, we attack the person’s identity, making anything that person has to say illegitimate—as he’s clearly just a hippy.

It’s natural to react to things that threaten our ideas by name calling, but we need to hear the same thing a teacher would tell that 8 year old: Stop it.

Satan triumphs each time we are distracted from considering Christ’s words together and instead pit Christian against Christian in name calling. Forget labels. Christ didn’t come to create political or ideological camps—he defied all his contemporaries’ attempts to label him or pin him down to a certain camp.

Focus on Christ’s words. If he said something difficult, such as, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor,” struggle through those words together to find what they mean for your life. Don’t end all discussion by calling your brother or sister a name. Be transformed together by the power of Jesus’ words.


Sarah said...

As a not-totally-republican, hippy, doesn't-eat-corn-fed-beef-but- not-a-vegetarian, not-totally-capitalist-but- not-a-communist-or-America-hater Christian, I agree with you Amber. Although I admit that I have fallen into that trap of calling others names as well, I have over the last couple of years tried to curb that habit. I like your blog. You say all the things I think, only more eloquently and with some credibility behind it. Rock on!

Jonathan Hart said...

Ooh.. I'm commenting along with Sarah and 'Comment Deleted' must have been tasty.

I was just going to say, that I use name calling for classification purposes. To me the names aren't pejorative, they're just handy tools for classifying ideology. Naturally all tools can be used for evil. I'd hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater, stereotypes save us from having to learn every nuance of each group member's belief system in order to draw conclusions.

I certainly agree with your assertion, name-calling is typically a base response born of fear.

If I had things my way, people wouldn't be so averse to good old fashioned intellectual argumentation. But that's one of the many weaknesses our culture has adopted. I'm not sure when we decided that people have a right to not be offended, but it was a mistake that is not without consequence.

Amber said...

Hi John! I totally agree that name calling is very useful and practical. For example, I call Sarah a "hippy" all the time, because let's face it, that's what she is. But we say it without a sneer. I guess that's what gets me, is the attitude behind the name, not the name itself. For example, Mike and I call you a commie bastard, but we do it accurately and with love in our hearts, wanting to hear and understand your commie thoughts. And we love discussing everything with you.

Amber said...

p.s. Sorry I misspelled your name, Jon.

Anonymous said...

The man's name is Jon, not John, you highty-flighty creativy-wativy-wuu-wuu. And boy does that fellow talk smart. You're all too clever and wordy for me. Personally, I get a kick out of using names and stereotypes, and I do sneer. I guess I'm a stereotypical white male jerk.