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The Case Against “Civility.”

The other day we recorded and then watched the movie “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” on the local PBS / UCF channel. (The movie is also called “A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy.”)

The 2017 movie on the life of the 16th century religious reformer and the founder of the protestant faiths and Reformation Movement was, in our opinion, very well done and informative. Luther was not portrayed as some saint without faults, but rather as a man seeking answers about God and the relationship between God and man. According to the movie, Luther was the first person to truly embrace the newfangled printing press, which made his message much more accessible to the masses. Arguably, it was Luther who founded the idea of peaceful resistance and protests against the powerful and the oppressive. Furthermore, the movie argued that many of the principles Luther espoused could be seen as a direct line to foundational ideas upon which the United States is based.

Yet one of the things that struck us was Luther had a bit of what we might call a “lack of civility.”

In writing about the Catholic Church and its leaders, Luther wrote:

You are murderers, traitors, liars, the very scum of all the most evil people on the earth.
You are full of the worst devils in hell – so full that you can do nothing but vomit and out come devils.

And….

He is a pig, an ass, a dunghill, the spawn of an adder, a lying buffoon, a mad fool with a frothy mouth and a whorish face

And….

I beg you, blow your nose a bit in order to make your head lighter and your brain clearer.

Forward to our world, some five and a half centuries after Luther’s death and we began to wonder how he would be perceived today. Specifically, we wondered how would Luther’s ideas be received saying those things or writing those words about a local City Council. Or how about a local Board or even the County Commission?

Can you imagine standing in front of the Chairperson of the County Commission and saying “you need t blow your nose in order to make your head lighter and your brain clearer?”

We suspect that the Chair and the Commission would condemn the remarks on the basis that the speaker was not being “civil.” The members of the Commission would never address the rest of the remarks, but would focus on being “offended” and “insulted.”

Even in an area in which we are working and will report more on in a few weeks, we have been met with “we are offended” statements by Council members, as if their being “offended” by what was being said invalidates the truthfulness of what was said. This Council / Board / Commission is proud of the fact they have passed a “Civility Pledge” without ever really defining what that means and at the same time, violating the pledge at every turn.

We are not advocating that people should stand up and insult elected officials. We think that in some ways, that only gives them the ability to close their ears even more than they are. We also realize that there are very few people who can write and speak in such descriptive language that unleashes the anger and the disdain the speaker has for the elected official. Today, most people can only shout out or reply with a “f-bomb” and or “m-f’er.”

That’s hardly the type of entertaining insults people like Luther wrote. Think about “a mad fool with a frothy mouth and a whorish face,” for a moment. Just the words put a mental image in the mind that is not present with the ubiquitous “f-bomb.” (Although, you can say that we were “raised on hoecakes” and we guarantee that we will take that as a compliment and not as an insult.)

We aren’t saying that people should be less civil, but rather that people should stop using what they deem as a “lack of civility” to close their ears and stifle debate and discussion because what is being said “offends” them.

If they won’t listen, perhaps they need to “go blow their nose” and be insulted more.



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