Incivility

In comments to the post below, the apocryphally named "Jonathan Maccabee" asks:

"Where in anyone's Scripture does it say to make people suffer because they are comfortable? … this sounds like warmed-over Marxism to me" He rails against "[taking] a comfortable person down, appealing to jealousy." And "to associate an insistence on civility with upper-class bigotry" is, he says, a kind of demagoguery.

Appeals to justice are not the same as appeals to jealousy. That's not a minor distinction. To equate and confuse the two is precisely a form of upper-class bigotry.

As for "taking down" the mighty and the comfortable, that is simply a matter of gravity. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" is, after all, simply descriptive.

As for scripture, where to begin?

Jesus tells a story of "A rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day." That is all we know of the man. His comfort, per se, wasn't the problem, but that comfort kept him from helping, or even seeing, the beggar Lazarus at his gate. In Jesus' story (as recounted by that noted Marxist, the evangelist Luke) the rich man ends up in fiery torment.

Not very civil.

The rich man chose comfort over justice, thus rejecting — as Abraham tells him (in his one New Testament speaking role) — "Moses and the prophets." Abraham seems to think that Moses and the prophets had something to say about justice and the poor. The rich man in hell is puzzled, "Where in anyone's Scripture does it say …?"

The Gospels are full of such incivilities, as are the prophets. "You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. … You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions," Amos says. "You sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals." (Does this really sound like Amos is jealous of their sandals?)

Then Amos gets personal: "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan .. you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, 'Bring us some drinks!'"

Where in anyone's scripture does it say such things? Throw a Bible against the wall and read whatever page it lands open to — you'll find more of the same.

I mention Amos above partly because he was one of the least civil of the prophets, but also because he too was criticized for his incivility. In Amos chapter 7 the eminently polite and civil Amaziah, the king's own priest, criticizes Amos for his harsh words and dirty fingernails. Amos' response shows how much he valued any version of civility that would muzzle justice or truth: "Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword …"

How rude.

Look, civility is good. Civility is nice. It is also a form of fairness, which means civility is a kind of justice and a kind of charity.

But if you find yourself in Dives' house, lounging on his fine, purple linens then you'd damned well better clear your throat and impolitely mention Lazarus lying bleeding on the doorstep.

  • Jonathan Maccabee

    Can’t argue with your post.
    My comment on “upper-class bigotry” was a response to your lumping in
    accusations of incivility with accusations of “low breeding”. Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh have each given and received this treatment.
    By the way, I am the apocryphally named Jonathan Maccabee. It’s on my birth certificate.
    Peace.

  • Fred

    A royal name. (Also the name of a tasty-but-affordable beer in Israel.)

  • Mr Ripley

    “Dives” is Latin for “Rich”, right? Not a guy’s name?


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