Persecution and the devaluation of language

Matt over at the Church of No People has this thought-provoking piece, sparked by a visit to an exhibition of work by contemporary Chinese artists. Although written from an American perspective, much of what he says translates to the UK context. It serves as a reminder that, while some claim that Christians are facing persecution in this country, and in the western world more generally, what we face is trivial compared to the suffering faced by Christians elsewhere and at different times.

Which leads me to ponder on our use of language. As Christians we, of all people, should be careful about the kind of language we use. We deal, week in and week out, with things that can only be expressed at the limits of our language. As we read our Bibles we are conscious that truth about God requires us strain human language to those limits. We do ourselves no favours if we misuse language by exaggerating our claims. If we do this often, than we have no language left to express the extremes of our experience. And if we begin to talk about persecution when what we really face is a small diminution of our historic prestige and privileges, what will we call the pressure faced, for example, by our sisters and brothers in Pakistan or Iraq?

And there are other instances of sloppy use of language, especially when it comes to imputing motives to those with whom we disagree. To label others as “fascistic”, or to compare them to the BNP because they do not share our viewpoint is a devaluation of language. It may express how we feel, but is it true? It is always dangerous to impute motives to others, and I would suggest that often it comes close to bearing false witness against our neighbour.

Of course, Jesus was not above the use of a bit of robust language and hyperbole himself, according to the Gospel accounts. Nor was Paul. But, like the boy who cried “Wolf!”, overuse of this langauge tends to dull its effect. Just because Jesus and Paul occasionally had harsh things to say should not be taken to give us carte blanche to allow our own emotions to run away with us in our use of language. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was, John tells us,  “full of grace and truth.” Shouldn’t we, his followers, also be?

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