From Slander to Sanctity
~ by Phaedra Shaltanis ~
Our culture is suffering a grave injustice, and I’m distressed about the effects it’s having on us. For months we’ve been nearly smothered by conflicting reports on public health, political intentions, and social justice. Polite disagreement rarely exists anymore; scorn and defamation appear to be the preferred weapons of choice, leaving the message to get lost in the chaos. Slander has almost become our national dialect, and it seems to be a favorite pastime of many. This behavior doesn’t serve the good and is destructive to our integrity as human beings. We deserve better from one another; we are not being just.
We know justice to be the virtue that pays each one what is due; justice recognizes that something is owed and it pays the debt. Aristotle claims in Nichomachean Ethics that, “the best man is not he who exercises his virtue towards himself but he who exercises it towards another;…justice is not part of virtue but virtue entire” (73). We understand that justice involves action, but perhaps we need to examine what this really means.
As Christians, we know that all humans deserve the dignity and respect adorned by our Creator simply by being; we believe we are God’s beloved, redeemed by Christ at an astounding price. We know God owes us nothing but gives everything, and we know his command well: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. We strive, albeit imperfectly, to practice the habits of loving others, but what about those who don’t believe the way we do? Is there any hope of persuading them to value the inherent worth of others and give them their due? Can we slow the perpetual spread of malice and contempt?
I believe we can do our part through the very unappreciated mode of language. The digital world makes vitriol and condemnation revoltingly easy, but it can also be used to soothe. While many people delight in damaging reputations through careless gossip and caustic words, we can use language as instruments of love and affirmation. This doesn’t mean false flattery, however; we are not to be like those who “…speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak (Psalm 12:2). Rather, we are to speak the truth in love, growing up in every way into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). With a right knowledge of truth, we are powerfully armed; with careful attention, our words become remedies rather than weapons. It may not be easy to wield language appropriately, but it’s imperative. We must move from slanderous indignity to laudable sanctity.
Our culture needs to examine and reclaim the gift of words, acknowledging their tremendous power to hurt and heal, to destroy and uplift. We should recognize language’s medicinal properties and use them rightly: as balm for souls wounded from so much abuse. We need to restore the dignity of words and elevate them to their proper place: as means to deliver the truth and praise the good. Whether through formal study, such as in Rhetoric and Literature, or in the commonplace conversation, we can practice faithful stewardship of language. Indeed, we must. It is our duty and helps pay the ongoing debt to love one another. By doing so, and by God’s grace, we serve justice and one another.
Recommended reading: Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Phaedra Shaltanis is a seasoned classical educator with 20 years of experience teaching in the classical tradition. Her experience includes home-educating her 4 children, teaching in private schools, creating a classical curriculum for young learners, serving as a leader in various programs, and mentoring parents and teachers in classical education. Phaedra cherishes conversations built on God’s truth and strives to engage others through discourse, particularly in the areas of literature and history. She hopes to encourage her students toward a stronger ardor for language as they seek after God and treasure their membership in Christ’s kingdom.