The internets are filled with arguments. Many of these arguments turn nasty and devolve into name calling.
As enlightened people, we know that name calling is baaaaadddd. Don’t call people names. We are encouraged to keep on point, not go into character assaults, and be “loving,” whatever that means.
If you want to sound smart, you will even refer to name calling as ad hominem arguments. Ooo, look at Mr. smartypants breaking out the Latin. Oops, I just used name calling.
Here’s the deal, name calling and pointing out character flaws has always been a part of arguing. In fact, it’s often what keeps arguments fun, entertaining, and memorable. Is name calling really that bad?
As a Christian, I get my answers from the Bible. Ha, that’s funny, as if Christians are known for getting their answers from the Bible.
As a guy who actually believes the Bible contains God’s Wisdom, I get my answers from the Bible. Guess what? There are a number of occasions where God’s people used name calling and character assaults during arguments.
Here are a few classic examples
Jesus Christ has had it up to hear with the religious leaders of His day. Jesus calls them hypocrites, fools, whitened sepulchers, and various other creative metaphors.
Jesus calls Peter Satan.
Calls a woman wanting healing for her daughter a dog.
Calls religious leaders blind leaders of the blind. Note that this also takes handicap people as a bad thing. How insensitive.
Jesus says all manner of mean things to a group of people who said they believed in Him. He calls them servants of sin, deaf (picking on handicapped people again), and then tells them their father is the devil and they are all murderers.
Even the Apostle Paul gets in on the act:
Paul says to the high priest, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall.”
Paul says to his readers, “O Foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” That’s not very nice.
I could go on, but I have things to do today.
Here’s the deal, I’m not telling you to go around calling people names, or comparing people to handicapped folks. I’m merely pointing out the reality of life as portrayed in the Bible.
God’s people occasionally call people names and even mock others. Remember Elijah and the prophets of Baal? We even teach our kids about this in Sunday School, and then tell them to be nice to others.
As with most things in life, things are more complicated than they seem. It’s too easy to flip to one side or the other and claim your side to be always right. What’s difficult is to know that for everything there is a season.
Some people deserve to be called out for what they are. There is a time for referencing people’s messed up character. There is a time to sum up that charge with a well-turned phrase that sounds an awful lot like name calling.
We shouldn’t trust ourselves to do this right all the time. You should think before speaking. But a well-thought out portrayal of reality is a more than fine thing, even if it sounds offensive to our over-sensitive ears.
On the flip side, when people bring up your character and maybe fling a name at you, perhaps lighten up a bit. Maybe they have a point. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Humility is the first step to learning.
As Paul said, “when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”
Let people slander you. You’ll survive. View yourself as the scum of the earth and there’s very little anyone can say to you that will disturb you.
And yes, note that Paul says we should entreat those who slander us, not call them names back. Paul apologized for calling the high priest a whited wall. Jesus spoke to the true condition of people’s hearts. He was not involved in name calling for name calling’s sake, nor was He exchanging barbs. He had a point and He was trying to make it to a group who wasn’t hearing Him.
Again, in the end, nothing is as simple as it appears. This is an area where we should use caution. It’s also an area where we will misapply easily. Do we have the guts to confront sinners? Or do we just call people names because they vote different from us?
Speak the truth in love. If well placed name-calling fits with that over-riding principle, then go for it.