St. James says "Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the whole course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.... No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God." (James 3:5-9)
We human beings can do immense damage to our own selves by verbally (even if it's mentally) putting ourselves down. We can so easily manage to destroy our own self-esteem and poison our self-confidence. Yet we are made in God's Image - and God does not make junk. Inwardly be gentle with yourself; God is. God overflows with patience for us. Because we are made in God's Image, we can, in prayer, be in union with Him and experience His love even if morally we are not yet perfect, not yet totally reflecting His Likeness. Ask for forgiveness; be kind to yourself; come closer to Him.
It seems we human beings, to a large extent, also feed on rumors, suspicions, scandal, character assassination, violent verbal outrage, without considering the repercussions, to our own souls and to the reputations of others. Some even "get even" with others by deliberately spreading lies about them. James points out our hypocrisy: one moment we can use our tongue to praise God, and the next "verbally slay" someone made in God's Image.
A Sufi mystic (holy man) had the same insight as St. James and pointed out the three gates our words should be able to pass through before we speak them: (see below)
Interesting, because right now the tongues of Muslims and Christians and non-believers are on fire, spreading violence across the world - in that same compartmentalization and hypocrisy that St. James and the Muslim mystics spoke out against.
Muslim extremists, in rebellion against their own holy men and the Koran, cry out "Death to all unbelievers!" And French cartoonists retaliate in kind.
Yes, I believe in free speech and freedom of the press. These are inalienable rights in free countries. But with freedom comes responsibility. And, so often people confuse the Law with Morality. Because it is legally all right for members of the press to say something, that does not make their words morally right.
If only the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, professed non-believers, had used the Three Gates that the Muslim mystics speak of to form their consciences before they produced cartoons deriding, making fun of, and insulting the Prophet. They did not satirize Sharia Law, which would be understandable, but insulted the Prophet himself. Poisonous, malicious cartoons.
Was what was implied about the Prophet true? Was it necessary ? Was it kind? As St. James says unequivocally " With it (the tongue) we curse human beings made in God's Image and Likeness."
No one can justify the extreme violence, both verbal and physical, that Muslim extremists have used and are using against Christians, in a fire that is spreading across the world. Likewise, no one can justify the verbal violence I have heard and seen here in the United States, calling all Muslims "sub-human", calling out for us to torture these "animals" and bomb their country. More fire, sweeping the world, pushing verbal threats towards physical retaliation and wider war.
In these violent and frightening times, we are called to work for peace by watching our own tongues, being mindful of the words we want to speak and letting our consciences and the Three Gates be our guide before they leave our mouths: Are our words true? Are they necessary? Are they kind? Are these words of justice and healing, or are they full of poison and malice?
World peace or war begin with words. Peace begins with the Word of God. War begins with words forged in the fires of Gehenna.