Loss of Civility in America– “It is another to revile or abuse a person with words“
by Bill Lockwood
People have always and will always disagree with one another. Unanimity of opinion is unrealistic where God’s free-will creatures are concerned. What is blatantly evident however, in modern America, is the increasing loss of civility in dialogue. This sad result is predictable in a society where godlessness has become the norm.
The apostle Peter, in his Second Letter (2 Peter), describes the current situation that unfortunately prevails in the streets, in the halls of Congress, in the collegiate and public school classroom, and in the marketplace. His remarks are deadly accurate.
2 Peter 2
Beginning in verse 10, the apostle explains what it is to “walk after the flesh”—a biblical phrase denoting pleasing our own base desires. Those who do so are libertines—who by lack of training and correction throughout their development—are devoid of moral or sexual restraints. They spurn normal behavior while putting a premium on on physical pleasures. The phrase “after the flesh,” taken in connection with “their foul lust” in the connecting sentence suggests sodomy (Green, TNTC, 103).
Regarding these libertines: Peter explains, “they despise authority.” Rejecting authoritative statements from God and man, they are “Brazen ones, and self-willed” (v. 10). Brazen means unashamed. The description of these individuals the apostle goes on to explain “they fear not to rail at dignitaries.”
It is one thing to disagree with another and even press one’s opinion. For the free expression of ideas and principles and concepts the First Amendment was composed–that open discussion on the issues would never be curtailed in America. “To rail at dignitaries” however, carries a completely different idea. The word “rail” is literally “blaspheme.” It means to “defame” a person. It means to slander or to crudely disparage another.
To put a fine point on this, Peter carries us to the court in heaven where good angels brought accusation against evil angels before the Almighty at some point in history. But even these angels refrained from bringing a reviling judgment against them. It is one thing to make accusation. It is another to revile or abuse a person with words. They abstain from no affront (Bigg, ICC, 280).
Almost as if describing the current malaise of civility among moderns, Peter continues his diatribe in v. 12 that “these are creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed; railing in matters wherein they are ignorant; shall in their destroying surely be destroyed” (ASV).
A “creature without reason” literally is an irrational person. Sensible discussion or thoughtful disagreement is beyond them. One has observed that “they preen themselves on their knowledge (a palpable dig at their pretensions to superior gnosis)” while in fact they have no more knowledge than does a brute beast (Kelly, BNTC, 339). Peter strengthens this description with the statement that these “have been born as mere animals that are caught and killed.” The idea is of a person whose only reaction is one of physical instinct—not thoughtful or respectful dialogue. A graphic picture this of individuals who live for themselves and their own desires.
“What an … indictment of the effect on a man of living like a beast! First he gets captured and then he gets destroyed by his passions. As Barclay points out, sensuality is self-destructive. ‘the aim of the man who gives himself to such fleshly things is pleasure; and his tragedy is that in the end he loses even the pleasure. … for a while he may enjoy what he calls pleasure, but in the end he ruins his health, wrecks his constitution, destroys his mind and character and begins his experience of hell while he is still on earth.’” (Green, Ibid.)
In just a few short verses Peter shows what we are witnessing with increasing regularity in our nation. Is it possible to disagree without becoming ugly and uncivil? Must one “take to the streets” with boiling anger to make a change? Is it no longer possible to debate the issues while refraining from toilet talk and cursing? Must people literally “howl at the moon” to demonstrate disagreement? Must people show rage to show a different view? Have we lost all civility?
The only answer to this morass of ugliness, of course, is a turning to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. May our nation bow its knee to God this holiday season.
Bigg, Charles. International Critical Commentary, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude.
Green, Michael: Tyndale NT Commentary, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude.
Kelly, J.N.D.: Black’s NT Commentary, The Epistles of Peter and Jude.