When Evil-Speaking Creeps Unawares Among Us

RayAnti-Mormon, apologetics, apostasy, Bible, Bloggernacle, diversity, grace, inter-faith, Mormon, politics, questioning, religion, righteousness 11 Comments

Last week, there was some heated debate here about More Open Mormon HistoryI don’t want to open that exact same discussion all over again, but I do want to look a little more closely at the motivation behind our conversations here.

I find Jude 1:4, 8-10 to be absolutely fascinating.  I have eliminated the skipped verses (5-7) and focused directly on the underlying attitude addressed in the overall passage and one specific application of it – and its implication for each and every one of us as we converse without being able to see each other.  Verse 4 reads:

There are certain men crept in unawares, . . . turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness . . .

The underlying issue in verse 4 that relates, I believe, directly to the attitude articulated in verses 8-10 is “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”.  Lasciviousness means “inclined to lustfulness; wanton; lewd” – but I am going to take a slight liberty with the core definition, based on what follows in verses 8-10.  I am not going to focus on the sexual implications of this verse and the overall passage, and I ask that the comments also refrain from that potential discussion, and instead focus on the non-sexual corollary identified in verses 8-10 – since those verses begin with the term “likewise” (“in like manner; in the same way; similarly”).  This introduction links what follows back to the same root cause discussed previously – lasciviousness, but what follows adds an intriguing twist.
I see “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” as having two possible meanings.  First, it can apply to those who use the concept of God’s grace to deny the need for commandments and external rules – who say what they do doesn’t matter, since grace makes their lasciviousness acceptable, meaning they are free to do whatever they want to do.  On the other hand, there are those who become arrogant in their own righteousness – who believe that they are “entitled” to grace because they deserve it, meaning they also are free to do whatever they want to do.  It is that belief that they understand completely and are not constrained by any collective or communal rules, I believe, that is addressed in verses 8-10.
Verses 8-10 take the initial definition of being “lustful” and focus it on how people interact with “dignities” and in discussions where “they know not”.  When viewed in light of Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) and the overall message of Matthew 5 (summarized in verse 48, footnote b), I believe a reasonable addition to the second condition would be “which they know not fully” – and I think that addition is important in our own conversations.  Regardless, the juxtaposition of the word “lasciviousness” with “evil speak(ing)” is fascinating- and I want to explore it a bit.  The exact words are:

8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

9 Yet aMichael the barchangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of cMoses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.
Returning to the definition of “lasciviousness” as “lustfulness”, the definition of “lust” I found that best fits this context is “a passionate or overmastering desire or craving”.  This means that Jude was speaking of people who give in to a passion or an overwhelming desire when they speak of dignities and things which they know not (fully) – but the context makes it clear that what Jude condemns is the “evil” application of this inclination.  Iow, while a passionate or overwhelming desire is laudable if it is charitable in nature (meaning non-judgmental), the opposite is true when it is condemnatory or attacking in nature.  In that case, the desire is labeled lascivious (“lustful”) and, therefore, “evil”.
How does that apply to our communications here and elsewhere?
I think verse 9 is one of the most interesting verses in our entire Standard Works.  Even if taken allegorically, if there ever was a figure below God who we think “should” be able to rail against Lucifer, it would be Michael, the archangel.  I mean, come on, this is Michael, the archangel!  However, verse 9 says Michael didn’t DARE do so – leaving God to do the rebuking.  I read this as saying that, even in a situation where it seems obvious that “speaking evil” of someone might be warranted, Michael refrained and left that up to God.
I have read a lot of rebuking and reviling in the Bloggernacle – not nearly as much as on general comment threads outside the Bloggernacle, but a lot nonetheless.  This occurs in our communications with each other, but it occurs even more often when “dignities” (“persons of high rank or title” and/or “ceremonial symbols and observances”) are being discussed.  Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, temple ordinances, gay marriage, prophets, etc. all bring out vitriol and ire faster than just about anything around here.
My point is not the stereotypical one that many might be assuming right now.  This post is not focused exclusively, or even primarily, on anti-Mormon diatribes. Those often fit the general tone of the verses I’ve quoted in Jude, but so do many of the responses to those comments and even others that stand on their own.  Often, “faithful” comments also speak evil of things that are “dignities” and “observances” of non- or ex-Mormons – even though those observances are not fundamentally ceremonial in nature. Also, in a very real sense, we all are God’s children, and I believe “speaking evil” of each other can be compared to speaking evil of dignities without stretching the definition far enough to make a difference.  (“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” – James 3:9)
For example, any comment that equates someone’s struggle to understand or accept a concept with “unrighteousness” has the potential to be “lascivious” – if it assumes things unknown (“which they know not”) and is mocking of someone’s deeply held beliefs (“dignities”) – every bit as much as a blatant condemnation of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young is when making a blanket statement that does not take into account the full complexity of those men.  The following key is subtle, but incredibly important, imo.
This type of lasciviousness carries a connotation of domination – of needing to be right – of needing to win – of caring more about winning than about understanding and being gracious.  Lustfulness is an attitude, not merely an action – and such arrogance cuts across religious and political lines.  It is something all of us need to understand and avoid, and it is enticing and natural and easy to miss as it creeps “unawares” into our interactions with each other – on a blog that is supposed to be about respectful disagreement, not lustful competition.
My question, then, is:
How do we communicate openly and honestly without resorting to lasciviousness and the tendency to evil speak – especially of dignities and things which we know not (fully)?

Comments 11

  1. Spencer W. Kimball taught that public gum chewing was lasciviousness. It’s in Teachings of SWK. I can’t see the word without thinking of walking around temple square with a jaw full of bubbalicious. OT, I know. Please resume serious and important conversation…now.

  2. I think the bloggernacle can be compared to driving on the road. Anyone with any driving experience at all has had the experience at least once of getting upset with another driver over something “stupid” they have done (like pulling out too close in front of them….intentional or not). If a person ran into us at a mall because they weren’t looking, because of the face to face contact it is much more likely that we would be forgiving instantly and move on. In a vehicle though, it can become ugly quickly, and the “offended” driver assumes it was intentional whether it really was or not. In the bloggernacle, we don’t have the face to face contact so that is a great disadvantage for us because just like we can “hide” behind our vehicles, we can hide even more so behind any physical contact at all. For some reason, we can be quick to take offense at things said and assume they are intentional in doing us harm when this may not be the case at all.

    I believe this is a major reason why people are much more likely to resort to the tendency to evil speak on the bloggernacle and become offended easily as well. If we consider why they are reading and participating on a blog that might have something to do with it as well. For example, do people who participate in blogging have certain personality tendencies to be argumentative or more likely to speak their mind in the first place? Are they participating because they are struggling to be heard in other parts of their lives? Is it just a hobby? What drives people to blog anyway and is that a big part of the reason why communication is the way it is? Are we all looking for an easy outlet and sometimes using others as a target?

    I think we have to look at our purpose in being involved in blogging in the first place and then take a look at why we might be resorting to evil speaking. I have found for me personally that I have been much more likely to speak evil when I have had little to no experience with certain life situations. As I have experienced life and its challenges I have learned to feel compassion for others and learn that I cannot judge others. Honestly, I think because of our human nature we almost always have to go through difficulties to learn how to not speak evil of others. It is only when we are humbled and brought down low that we are able to get off of our high horse long enough to really see others and realize they are people just like us with feelings and concerns. When we are able to see that we are much more likely to treat others with respect and we will take care not to trample them when communicating online.

    One more thing I have noticed. There are many “intellectuals” who participate on this blog and are able to articulate their thoughts well. Being twenty something years out of college and raising seven children it can be challenging to not feel less than at times because it has been so long since I have had to write anything in a educated way. Some are able to express themselves well because of natural talent and experience, while others may not have that talent or just may be out of practice (like me). I think it is possible that others can be quick to assume that people like me have nothing intelligent to say if they can’t respond in an “intellectual” way or if their comments tend to not be as relevant to the post as they think they should be. I think this can lead to others saying things that might be unkind as well because that person is not as informed or educated as they are about a topic.

  3. Jen, in my own defense (I know, ironic in light of the post), my personal reason I get mad at dangerous drivers is that I’m more likely to die or be seriously maimed in a car accident than in a mall accident 🙂 I’m scared by the times I’ve driven dangerously and wish that all would work a little harder to drive safely (I’ve never been more scared driving than on I-15/215 and in Utah Valley, though I haven’t driven everywhere there is to drive). As a police officer told me when I was a teenager, “There is no place you’re going that it’s worth getting in an accident to be there only a matter of minutes earlier.” What does this have to do with your reply?

    “As I have experienced life and its challenges I have learned to feel compassion for others and learn that I cannot judge others. Honestly, I think because of our human nature we almost always have to go through difficulties to learn how to not speak evil of others. …When we are able to see that we are much more likely to treat others with respect and we will take care not to trample them when communicating online.”

    This is, in a way, my point. When driving, I need to get a little less angry, that’s for sure. I think it’s a constant struggle for all at some point to stay cool-headed under heated situations. I wish we could all find a way to be less vitriolic, even when we feel passionately about topics. Avoiding taking bitter offense doesn’t mean that we have to change our minds. And avoiding making purposely offensive remarks doesn’t mean that we’re agreeing with the other side. It’s just a matter of respect, I think. Learning from past offenses given and taken would probably take us all a long way in a good direction, regardless of doctrinal disagreements. I’ve learned in driving what I’m working on learning in dealings with others.

  4. Post

    #1 – MH – I’m enough of a realist to not be holding my breath for that reward. 😉

    #2 – tiredmom – Bubble gum. Never would have made that connection, but Pres. Kimball was a fascinating mixture of gentle compassion and hardcore moralist.

    #3 – That’s a very good point about needing to evaluate and understand our motivations for blogging in the first place. Also, for what it’s worth, as someone else who hasn’t taken a college class in close to 20 years and is raising six kids, I think you explain yourself very well.

    #4 – “It’s just a matter of respect, I think.” Thanks a lot! You just summarized my post in eight words. *sigh* 🙂

  5. Off topic, but since I joined the Church in 1982, I retain great fondness for President Kimball… My understanding is that before becoming President of the Church, President Kimball was viewed much the way many people view Elder Packer today, i.e., as a rigid, unbending moralist with little sympathy for sinners. He was also seen as something of a mediocrity. It seems that becoming the head of the Church brought out both his compassionate side and dynamic leadership ability that few had realized he possessed.

  6. Post

    #6 – I agree, kuri. He really is a fascinating figure.

    #7 – How do you spell that laughing/choking/spitting sound that precedes having to clean off your computer screen?

  7. I think the answer is simple to say, but takes a lifetime and beyond to live. It’s what Pres. Hinckley said once. The answer is simple. It is love.

  8. Jen:

    Your comments in #3 are so profound and correct – I wish I could have read them before coming online.


    Good post. I wonder what happened. Why did it stop at #9? Was another post more important at the time?

  9. I took it upon myself to bring this post back – in the daytime – in the hopes that it would generate more comments. I still like #3 from Jen.

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