The Collapse of Manners

"In college, when we studied Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, I realized my father was the disciple of a rather ancient set of values. He was a gentleman: someone who still practiced the art of manners, and as such, he was both inheritor and promulgator of the classical conservative tradition." American Conservative

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From the Archives: Argue Like a Saint

First appeared at SharperIron on June 25, 2008.

Verbal communication is one of God’s favorite inventions. He created speaking beings in His image and then spoke to them. Over the millennia, He gave visions to prophets and commanded them to speak or write what they had seen. And He inspired select prophets to write His words as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. He gave us a book.

So whenever we use words, we’re doing something of personal importance to God. And since we believers are at peace with God through Christ and represent God to a world that does not know Him, our writing and speaking carry that much more importance.

We should not be surprised, then, that Scripture has so much to say about how we use words. And we should attend energetically to how that instruction applies to posting in Internet forums.

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Julian Assange--Found!


Julian Assange, the Robin Hood of computer hackers, has been on the run for months. From the time he was young, his life has always been one of moving from one place to another, including thirty-seven times by age fourteen. Since founding Wikileaks in 2006, he has continually changed addresses and appearances. Extremely gifted, certainly charismatic, and in his own words “extremely cynical,”1 39-year-old Assange has become one of the most well-known people in the world. Convicted of computer hacking in 1995 and given a minor penalty, the Australian native and his organization have posted documents about Guantanamo Bay detentions, Sarah Palin’s personal Yahoo email account, and extrajudicial killings in Kenya and East Timor.2

Now he has taken on the US military and State Department. To many, including Daniel Ellsberg, Assange is a hero of extraordinary proportions. Time Magazine has nominated him for “Person of the Year.”3 To others, including an increasing number of his fellow Wikileakers, he has begun to lose touch with reality.

Assange sees the United States as the greatest political threat to the world—to the point that many of his co-workers say that he is obsessed with America.4 Far beyond the illusory dream of Woodrow Wilson, Assange believes that by taking on America via Wikileaks, he is making the world safe for democracy.5

But Assange has not achieved what he set out to attain. True, he leaked the information that a US gunship fired on the wrong target in Baghdad and killed, among others two journalists. But his leaks also produced little-known information about how America’s foe, the Taliban fighters, have repeatedly beheaded their enemies.6 And who would have expected that Wikileaks would have revealed that Saudia Arabia and Bahrain—not (US supported) Israel—are the real hawks in the Middle East against Iran? James Ruben writes in The New Republic that the disclosures “undermine the very worldview that Julian Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks almost certainly support.”7

In the process of leaking information, Wikileaks has endangered lives and angered a host of nations. The conflict Julian Assange has begun is equivalent to taking on several grizzly bears in a fistfight. He doesn’t stand a chance.

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Responding Publicly to Erring Brethren: Motives and Methods, Part 2

Read Part 1.

Paul’s methods for responding to false accusation

In Philippians 1:12-18, Paul provides a model for our methods in responding to false accusations.

Provide the facts

Facts appear to be Paul’s primary weapon for taking on the untruths about himself. Assuming God wants us to write or speak publicly about the controversy, we should do our best to get the truth out there through whatever means are available. But in the actual writing or speaking, we should be restrained in our presentation.

Be restrained

Our Lord has withheld much information about these men from us, and it is not because He lacked knowledge, authority, or justification to reveal all. Whatever His reasons for not giving more information about the preachers of envy, those reasons were apparently controlling in this example. Though the men would have been quick to name Paul in their own messages, convincing their listeners of Paul’s wickedness, our Lord keeps their names out of the press. Though they committed their verbal sins publicly, Christ does not publicly elaborate on their sinfulness. Indeed, we are not given any salacious details that would tease and tempt our sinful flesh. Instead we get the barest of facts regarding sinful motives, and no names to put with the faces.

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Responding Publicly to Erring Brethren: Motives and Methods, Part 1

It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! (Luke 17:1, KJV)

But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:12-18)

In Philippians 1, Paul tells of some brothers in Christ1 who attacked him verbally from their pulpits, impugning his reputation and character in an obvious attempt to raise their own lights in the church by helping one of its luminaries to fall. From Paul’s day till now, the same sad sort of behavior continues to be exemplified by members of Christ’s body who should know better. Whether sitting at a desk and writing books, uploading to the Internet, or mounting pulpits on Sunday morning, men and women are still falling into the same trap year after year, thinking that the demise of someone else’s reputation in the church will enliven their own.

Speaking their hearts but lacking or ignoring the truth about the other person, they claim the servant of God to be what he is not—guilty of some imagined sin or error. From Athanasius to Al Mohler, God’s dear servants have been the subjects of gossip, smear campaigns, character assassinations, rumors, backbiting, and generally poor treatment—and not just from the unsaved, but from redeemed people acting and thinking sinfully. Sometimes their accusations fall on deaf ears, and the charge goes nowhere. But sometimes the charge gains an audience, and other proponents take it up.

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