The Destructive Potential of Words

I’ve finally found a church home in the area (after two years of looking for a place).  The sermon last night was on James Chapter 3 — a passage about the impact that words have and the importance of watching what you say.  He began the message by talking about some of the ways that words can hurt.  I thought to myself, well of course they can! Look at the impact that words spoken by political leaders/candidates and everyday people.  Look at the impact that street harassment — sometimes just words thrown at women on the street — can have on the safety of women.  And yet, none of this came up once in the message.  Instead, the pastor focused on the impact of swearing or complaining.

Now, maybe I’m more left-leaning than my church preaches, but to me this seems like a huge sidestep of a really important issue.  Toward the very end of the message, he made the point that the words that come out of our mouths are symptoms of the condition of our hearts, and in order to change our words, we must change our hearts.  I would take this a step further and say we have to change our minds as well.

It is not enough to say that we will watch what comes out of our mouths.  At some point, the thoughts that give way to those words will come out, and will be put into words that are harmful.  Telling someone to watch his mouth, doesn’t mean that the urge to use that language changes.

For example: The pastor used an analogy to illustrate this point that relied on cultural ideas about the differences between men and women: the idea that men never know what to say to women because women are so damn hard to figure out.   What he doesn’t realize is that these words have meaning as well.  These words reinforce the generalizations about men and women — the same stuff the fuels the romantic comedy machine.

It just boggles my mind that anyone could have a discussion about the impact of words without ever once even hinting at this implications.  But maybe that’s my shaded view of the world.  To me, everything comes back to a discussion about these social issues.  And to not even acknowledge them seems to me to be a deliberate ignoring of these issues.  Which is something that does no one any good.

Religion scholars: how do you weigh in on this?

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