I am preparing for Os Guinness to be our guest again on BlogTalkRadio in a few weeks by reading his newest book, The Magna Carta of Humanity: Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom. It’s a fascinating study of revolution and freedom in which he compares the Jewish revolt against Egypt and Pharaoh, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789 and how widely they differ in their understandings of freedom and human dignity.
In one section of his book subtitled “Social Media and Evil Speech,” Os observes how that “American public discourse has degenerated to the level of a verbal slum ruled by the vicious gang lords of the Twitter world.” Os goes on to remark how Rabbi Jonathan Sacks noted that the Jewish sages regarded evil speech as the worst of sins, “as bad as the the three cardinal sins — idolatry, murder and incest — combined.” The reason for that being, “it kills three people, the one who said it, then one it is said about, and the one who listens in.” Those distinctions are important because we may not be saying it but we may engage in an unhealthy amount of listening in, which is just as murderous.
We must realize we are living in a culture that has lost total regard for basic human dignity — the kind that comes from believing every person is made in God’s image and has immense worth. “Can there be any doubt that the brutal incivility of American discourse is now tearing America apart?” Os then quotes Rabbi Abraham Heschel who lost family members in Auschwitz: “Holocausts are caused wherever a person is put to shame.”
We feel helpless in many ways against powerful social forces such as these and tempted to despair over the hope of anything being done. So we typically throw our hands up and do nothing. But there is something we can do. We can choose to never participate in this kind of damaging activity. We can refuse to create, pass on or take part in any way in any kind of speech that degrades another person, no matter who they are or what they stand for.