You have heard that it was said:
“Name calling ends the conversation. It is rude. It is counterproductive. It’s not what Jesus would do. It’s not what the saints would do. It is not Christian. It’s plain mean. It makes for enemies, not consensus.”
However, name calling can be a good and holy thing, so that, even though it is hurtful to pride and emotions, it just may be an occasion to assist someone in the salvation of their souls. Having hurt pride or hurt emotions is nothing compared to suffering eternal damnation, or being in purgatory for any length of time at all. Take note that this charitable aspect of some name-calling is to be found in the Sacred Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, both in Old and New Testaments. Take note, in particular, of the Gospel of Matthew, where we find the holy name-calling of the greatest of all the prophets, John the Baptist (3:7-12 – rsv), he being a saint, with his name-calling geared to repentance and salvation of souls. Mind you, he does this precisely as the forerunner of Jesus:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Sometimes, this greatest of prophets is called an old meanie, and dismissable with the anti-Semitic statement that he is merely Old Testament, full of justice lacking mercy (which is not justice), so that there is then an insistence that Jesus, instead, was nice. Let’s recall some name-calling wrought by Jesus Himself (Matthew 23:13-38 – rsv):
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, `If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity.
You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.
I remember a priest, many, actually, who said:
“We are now beyond John. We are now beyond Jesus. They were then. We’re now. We better because we live today. We are a post-Ascension New Testament people. So, let’s see if post-Ascension Saint Paul was shy about name-calling (Romans 1:18-32):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.
They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.
Whew! Saint Paul says such things not because he is hateful, or “homophobic”, but because he loves all and is in anguish that all be saved, if possible. Recall his success in this new evangelization (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – nab):
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
So, can name-calling be charitable? Indeed. It can be a spiritual work of mercy essential to the new evangelization.
Saint John the Baptist and Jesus Himself turned the world upside down for the greater honor and glory of God. Turning the world upside down is not an evil, but can be a great good, done with all goodness and kindness, even if some are — hopefully only temporarily — infuriated. The entire history of salvation is loaded with glorious saints who turned the world upside down.
But what about CIC 220, you might ask, about the right of others to a good name. Yes, well, sometimes that good name was forfeited by these others by the very public actions and/or statements that they have made, so that corrective measures need to be taken, even and perhaps especially when this is not done but should be done by those who are more appropriate for the task.
O.K., but can’t there be a different, you know, nicer way to go about things, more civilized, more, well, NICE? I’ll answer that question if you can answer me these two questions: Was John sent from God, yes or no? Was Jesus sent from God, yes or no?
Is there a danger about the hypocrisy of a splinter in someone else’s eye while we have a beam in our own eyes? Yes, Jesus warned us about this as well. Some think that since we have all of us, you, me, all of us, put Jesus to death with our sins, that we cannot ever reprimand someone else. But this is just a bit too convenient. With full recognition of our own unworthiness, we can surely do this spiritual work of mercy. We had just better not forget how weak we ourselves are. Recall the frightening and yet hopeful words of Ezekiel 3,18-21 (nab):
If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life. If a virtuous man turns away from virtue and does wrong when I place a stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sin, and his virtuous deeds shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him. When, on the other hand, you have warned a virtuous man not to sin, and he has in fact not sinned, he shall surely live because of the warning, and you shall save your own life.
Having said all that, in the end, we are supposed to call ourselves names, like “sinner”, in confession. Confession is great. It is there that we meet with a potential part of the virtue of justice, that is, mercy, as the Common Doctor says in his commentary on the sentences. Don’t delay. I love going to confession. Because I’m such a sinner. But Jesus is very good, very kind, providing us the grace to be innocent as doves, though as clever as serpents.
“Oh, but, Father George, that’s very nice as a clever study and all, but we must be prudent and actually nice to people. You get more flies with honey than with fly swatters. Calling people names takes you out of the discussion. It proves you have nothing to say, no argumentation.”
Review the name calling above, including the one about hypocrites. This is logical name calling, entirely different from, say, four letter words. We have to take people seriously and point out to them that they are on the wrong path (making sure we are repentant of anything wrong in our own lives, of course).