Unbeknownst to me, on the same day that I was listening to Ben Carson field questions at a roundtable sponsored by a Nashville area ministry, Islamic terrorists were killing journalists that wrote for the French publication, Charlie Hebdo. Together they provided me a needful and timely lesson, particularly as the “political season” is upon us with the dawning of the new year.
I had never heard Dr. Ben Carson in person. But his manner and style of speech, particularly compared to what I am used to from those who are or would be politicians, was really disarming. The softness of his speech was such that you almost had to lean in to hear him, and you certainly had to be intentional about listening. And while he was very clear in his opinions, even about Islam, he was gentle in the manner in which he spoke about hard and even unpleasant realities.
The next morning I woke up to read about Charlie Hebdo, a publication I had never heard of. What I learned from the news stories was that it was a “satirical publication.” To make sure I understood that term, I looked it up. Satire is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.”
When you put the meaning of satire down in black and white, it is easy to see why satirists invite wrath—no person likes to be ridiculed in public or be publicly made the object of scorn.
This does not mean that those Charlie Hebdo scorned and ridiculed—whether Muslims or anyone else—had a right to physically harm them, let alone kill them.
And no doubt “freedom of speech” gave Charlie Hebdo’s journalists the right to be as satirical as they wanted. We should defend their “right” to do so.
But what one has a right to do does not mean it is the right thing to do. And that put me to thinking about the fact that words are powerful things.
As I reflected on this and these two contrasting styles of communication, I remembered that the author of the book of James in the Bible said that the “tongue is a fire … and set on fire by hell.” And the more I thought about words and the manner in which we convey them, I found myself pouring over the book of Proverbs, because I knew it contained much wisdom about how we use our words.
And here are some “words” from Proverbs that I know I would do well to ponder and seek to apply, particularly as I try to share insights on the cultural issues of our day and the words and works of our politicians. (Each Scripture is taken from the NASB, with chapter and verse in parenthesis.):
Death and life are in the power of the tongue:
and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (18:21).
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger (15:1).
Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances (25:12).
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing (12:18).
The heart of the wise instructs his mouth
And adds persuasiveness to his lips (16:23).
Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out,
Even strife and dishonor will cease (22:10).
Wise words—words of understanding about the nature and power of the tongue and, just as importantly, about the nature of man in the way that he responds to them. While the First Amendment cannot and should not force me to heed their wisdom, Solomon certainly provided an incentive to do so:
A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead (Proverbs 21:16).
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.