instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, August 20, 2004

If you can't say anything loving

Flos Carmeli revisits a previous discussion on judging others. This time, the question is whether it is ever morally acceptable to say, "You are a liar":
Some will argue that there is no condemnation in calling someone a liar. But I would ask, if not, why do so? ... The fact of the matter is that we know the difference to the core of our being. Calling someone a liar allows us to express our "righteous indignation" against such a profound transgression of God's peace and love....

At what point does one who tells lies become a liar? I would suggest that it most often occurs when we get angry enough to apply the label.... That said, I will open the door a very small amount to say that it is conceivable that in order to be shocked out of behavior the stronger language may be used, but never as it is commonly used and only in the hope of correcting the fault....

So I would say that the most general case calls us never to label, never to judge a person.
I think Steven is wrong to imply that there is no value in calling someone a liar other than condemnation. For example, there is value in explicitly acknowledging the relationship between what we do and who we are.

Still, I think he is basically on target at the pastoral level. People do use negative predication ("you are a liar") to jump to assignment of essence ("your species is Liar"). I wouldn't go as far as saying "the most general case calls us never to label," but I do think we should be very careful, about both what we really mean and what we might be taken to mean, when we find ourselves about to say (or even think) what someone else is.