Big wind storm a few days ago, hit a collection of communities in our area, sustained winds winds over 60 miles an hour, higher in the gusts. Grain bins toppled, the bank across the street lost it’s whole roof, many large trees ripped up or just snapped off, communications towers broken, and one building in our town collapsed completely. Fortunately the collapsed building was unoccupied and miraculously no one was hurt anywhere that I heard. We had two panels of roof rip off our Gazebo and lost all our communications dishes and antennae, but that is relatively minor in the big picture.
What has all that weather stuff to do with sins of the tongue you might ask? Quite a bit actually. The weather is part of what we euphemistically term the “human condition”. Weather, illness, work, food or the lack thereof, comfort, love, friends, enemies, government, evil, good. Dissatisfaction continually at war with contentment. The thought appears: “Why is it always the tall trees that get blown down?”
Man, (and Woman) knows, with an inborn awareness, that something is wrong in this human existence, something not quite defined, a lurking shadow that effects everything we experience. It is easy to fixate on the weather as an excuse for our discomfort. It sets us “on edge”, ready to complain, ready to gossip, and vent our tale of woe and find someone we all agree on to blame.
Many of us in these enlightened progressive times like to think that the root cause of this historical disorder is the notion that “a man can do something wrong or evil”. All we need to be perfectly comfortable is to rid ourselves of the “silly claim” that good and evil actually exist. It’s all “relative”, right?
Yet evil and discontent seems perennially connected with our condition. Men did not suddenly realize one day that they sinned. From the beginning of history they did not and do not know what to do about the evils that they are sent and that they send into the world because of their sins. They sense that they have done wrong and all the bluster and pretense doesn’t make it feel OK. “I’m OK, Your OK” just doesn’t cut it when the rubber hits the road, no matter what the guru’s of self realization preach.
What man senses he needs is forgiveness. That forgiveness has to be placed in the hands of someone authorized to forgive. No ordinary person possesses this capacity. We are all in this together and if we are to escape our fate we have to be forgiven by someone outside the pit.
Over the last hundred thousand years or so, very few of the billions of people who have lived on this planet have heard of this forgiveness of sins that Revelation postulates. Among those who have heard of it, not many practice it. To cover this situation, we talk of being sorrowful. and we have been taught that God will forgive even if we know nothing of the Sacrament on the forgiveness of sin. Everyone has something that they know needs to be forgiven, however they rationalize, and justify, and distract themselves, but it can only go on so long. It just wears ya down.
Some expand this view to save everyone, we are all going to heaven, while others suspect that, if everyone is forgiven, no matter what they do, why bother being good? The good and the bad are equally redeemed with or equally without forgiveness, but as mentioned in a previous post “sin clouds our intellect and destroys right judgement”.
We know in our hearts that we need “forgiveness” from some authority above our state, our condition. We need forgiveness from God, from the Divine. And we need genuine forgiveness that does not excuse but requires sorrow, and contrition, and amendment and amends. I have been thinking about my sins and habits of thought and those things which walk into my mind and immediately pull the big EJECT handle and come out of my mouth without much consideration, if any. It’s time to get to Confession, isn’t it?
I have been thinking and talking this way all my adult life. And that in a nutshell is the root of all sin … sins of the tongue … given flight without consideration simply because we are in “conversation with friends” and it is only natural to talk about others who are not present, perhaps even others who we don’t even know.
Judgement and attribution articulated with imputation of motives even when there is no way in this universe that we could know even the least bit about other’s intentions or motives. We just don’t know, and even if we did know, what makes it our job, our responsibility, to spread it around?
I have been reading (fourth painful time around now) a little book called “Sins of the Tongue” by a Fr. Belet for sale at Amazon.com for 91 cents.
From the Amazon blurb we have:
“Originally written in French in 1870, Fr. Belet wages war against one of the worst sins of his (and our) time – backbiting – better known to us as detraction (telling the faults of others without cause). Most of us do not realize how evil this sin is. In fact, many of us don’t think it’s a sin at all. After ruining someone’s reputation, or satisfying our anger (and yes, our hatred) by spewing out every bad thing we can say about someone, we justify ourselves by saying, “Well, it’s true!”
We even think we are acting justly by giving someone what they deserve. Due to our lack of charity and also to our pride, little do we see things from God’s point of view, to whom these are vile sins – a form of hatred of neighbor – a failure to do the two things necessary – to love God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).
In explaining this sin of backbiting, properly called detraction, Fr. Belet quotes the best men of Western Civilization: Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Seneca, Pliny, the Roman Emperor Constantine, King David, Isaiah, Saints James, Luke, Matthew, Paul, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Cassian, Gregory the Great, Augustine, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, and many others. A very helpful book for those who wish to know the meaning of backbiting—and how to avoid it.”
So without further delay, to give us something to think about, when all we wanted to do was have a pleasant conversation over coffee with our friends, here is a quote from somewhere in the middle of the text:
” … A master too short on words with his servant, or a man with his neighbor, obviously proves that he feels little friendship or kindness towards him.
A religious once said, “If we do not cultivate them, two kinds of thoughts will stop bothering us by themselves: thoughts of fornication and thoughts of backbiting. When they call, do not answer them; whatever they say, pay them no heed. If you act otherwise, you may try to resist but you will not escape their clutches.”
And one must not only avoid backbiting when it attacks charity and justice directly, but even when it turns on light defects and weaknesses of little importance. Even the worthiest of men are not always exempt from this sort of backbiting. Perhaps it is a lack of prudence or reflection, but even they take pleasure in relating the defects and faults of others to willing listeners.
It would seem that we have taken this verse from La Fontaine as a motto: “I attempt to turn vice to ridicule, Since I cannot attack it with the arms of Hercules“. And why be surprised? The human race has an instinctive propensity for criticizing other people’s behavior. We all carry the scarlet with which we paint everyone. Everything that seems blameworthy in our sight turns into vice at once, and it is all the greater in the proportion that we want to appear wiser and more religious.
Saint Jerome says, “The passion of this evil has so infested the world that people who have totally renounced other vices still fall into this one. One might say it is the last trap the devil sets for them.” This rashness of judgment is often accompanied by envy, the sworn enemy of the happiness of others.
The envious person tries to calm his bad temper by disparaging another man’s merits in every way imaginable; he suffers less when he sees others damaged by some defect. Envy is often preceded by a secret pride, which spurs us to wish to be preferred above others, or at least to be their equal. For fear that our neighbor may rise too high and eclipse us, we craftily clip his wings.
We see that conversations which reveal good men’s imperfections often result in countless evils. Upon hearing his neighbor’s weaknesses related, more than one listener will be tempted to tell his friends, “Look at what he did, and everyone mistakes him for a little saint! If he committed that fault, he will certainly commit a lot more. I thought he was so virtuous, but I see him now; he has his faults too.”
Many people’s consciences are disturbed by such talk. If the slandered person’s reputation is not totally lost, it is seriously damaged. Bonds of friendship and kindness are broken; the absent person who is spoken about will certainly be held in contempt. And how can the accused defend himself when usually he is not even aware of the blows being struck against him, or at least of who their author is?
That is how a man can be murdered and not even know it. The sin is all the more serious when someone backbites people in honored positions, even in light matters, and even if they are guilty. “Even in your thoughts do not make light of the king, nor in the privacy of your bedroom revile him, because the birds of the air may carry your voice, a winged creature may tell what you say” (Eccl. 10:20). You see, Holy Scripture tells us not only to avoid backbiting, it even commands us to banish it from our thoughts.
You who backbite, do not think it suffices to tell your listeners, “Don’t reveal what I say, I beg of you, I confide this secret to your discretion.” You are no less guilty, and this behavior proves how simple you are. Pray tell, why do you ask him to keep silence? You are the one who should have kept silence first. If you do not want your words to leak out, then keep them to yourself! You have not remained silent and you would shut other people’s mouths? If you are in such a rush to pull the stopper out of the spigot, then what can you expect of others?
Saint Francis of Assisi had an extreme aversion to backbiting and slanderous accusations. His biographer, Saint Bonaventure, relates that one of his brothers said evil about another and leveled several accusations against him. The Saint told his assistant, “Father, go and examine this affair. If the accused is innocent, punish his accuser so severely that it will give others an example, and he will remember it.”
Saint Francis even wanted to remove the religious habit from a brother who had not been afraid to remove the cloak of another’s reputation, so that it would be done to him as he had done to others, and in this way he would be obliged to restore the reputation he had stolen. …
Backbiting drags a whole host of evils in its wake: it depraves anyone who listens to it, causes the backbiter to be considered a slanderer, and incurs the hatred of his neighbor. God has attached an enormous ball to this chain: the obligation of restoring the neighbor’s reputation. Saint Augustine’s words here are as true for backbiting as for money: “Non dimittitur peccatum nisi restituatur ablatum: No restoration, no pardon” (St. Augustine, Epistle 65, Ad Macedoniae).
It is a common principle among theologians (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part II, Section II, Question 62, Article 2.) that restoring their neighbor’s reputation is obligatory not only for those who have revealed an imaginary crime of his, but also those who have revealed a true but secret crime. They are held to giving him at least an equivalent compensation: and they owe this compensation to the detriment not only of their own reputation, but also their life.
Along with their neighbor’s reputation, they must repair all the harm he has incurred; and they must do so even if what they revealed is true. Since the thing is true, they are held to tell everyone who heard them not that they were lying, but that they were backbiting. Even if it were only for the inconvenience of being obliged to repair your neighbor’s reputation, backbiting should be avoided like the plague.
How painful to have to retract what you said and undergo the shame of such a restoration! It is easy to return an item of clothing, a sum of money or personal property unjustly acquired; there are a thousand ways of doing it. But restoring a reputation, what a burden! Now, the gravity of this sin lies precisely in the difficulty of repairing it.
When an opinion has been revealed, it soon spreads all over, going through cities and empires, and a hitherto unknown person soon acquires a sad celebrity. But if you try and praise someone you have previously denigrated, you are wasting your time. What you said has taken root too strongly, and too many people know about it. “People believe evil first; But when it comes to the good, Then seeing is believing.” (La Fontaine)
But you will say, “Backbiting flourishes everywhere, and no one ever makes restoration.” Ah that is precisely the evil I deplore! Do you think our worst habits can excuse our vices? Just because “everyone does it,” does that give you the right to do something? The vast number of fools is no praise for folly. Besides, it is false to say that reputations are never repaired. I would prefer to think it occurs only rarely. … ”
But … but … all I want to do is have a pleasant conversation over coffee with my friends … and why are Canadians such great practitioners of “Tall Poppy Syndrome”? I have heard it is a social term about a phenomenon in Australia and New Zealand, but I’ve never been there and have only experienced the Canadian version, almost a national sport here, after putting down Americans, and Hockey. Why do so many great people become “from Canada”, because they have to leave the country to succeed? Just why is that?
Scary, isn’t it?
… how much of what we read on Twitter and Facebook is Backbiting? Is this cartoon backbiting?