One of the earliest needs of mankind was to express his thoughts to others. Through the study of early civilizations, we can trace the development of how such thoughts, accomplishments, and activities were expressed.
Perhaps at first, communication was by grunts, groans or hand gestures. Cave drawings, to cruciform stone carvings of actual languages going back to the 2nd Century BC, to papyrus scrolls and others such materials, give an encapsulated detail of daily life through the centuries.
Jump ahead about 1700 years or so and we find the invention of the printing press that allowed for the production of books and the ability for the masses to posses and eventually read them.
About 400 years later, these books morphed in spoken words via radio, television, and now the Internet, each medium having their definite effect on our world and societal life.
Being able to communicate personal thought in any form is a gift and freedom, but it comes with responsibilities.
When the United States was formed, its general outline and parameters of law included being able to express one’s thoughts freely. This is a privilege citizens of the United States were guaranteed through the Constitution.
The Founding Fathers wrote in the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
None of these freedoms should be taken lightly. Being free to worship God and practice your religious traditions without fear, offer personal thoughts and working toward their resolution of mind, are granted to few in the modern world.
One of the most sacrosanct is the freedom of the press and expression of thought for these provide the opportunity for the public to exercise an ongoing critique and evaluation of those who hold positions of authority in government, in business, in the church, and in society in general. This right must always be protected and guarded against any force wanting to curtail it.
The first duty of a writer from the Christian perspective is to maintain a continuous concern for the influence they exercise upon the ethical, spiritual, and educational life of the faithful, keeping the health of the Church before them as an important factor in their work. They have the moral responsibility to protect and speak out for the rights of the people and to honestly, faithfully, and carefully investigate any violation or any type of administrative abuse of authority, no matter where it is found.
With heartbreak for the victims, we are witnessing today the results of such investigational analysis within the Catholic Church and of the criminal actions some of their bishops and clergy engaged in with innocent children.
Another example: with the development of cable TV came the onslaught and the ability of the televangelists, those holier than thou charlatans who exploited the freedom of speech and of religion for their own evil, scheming, and criminal actions.
You had the likes of Jimmy Swaggert denouncing all organized religion as a stumbling block to God and salvation. Only through his ministry was salvation possible. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club depicting on a map where Armageddon would take place, for God had revealed this information to him. Jim and Tammy Baker who could pray through the airways to heal whatever ailments you had.
What each swindler sang in unison was the only thing you had to do was to send in your donations to keep their “ministries” alive to bring God’s message to you.
The ancient Church Fathers had to deal with similar fraudulent pronouncements in their times as well. Heretical teachings were abundant in the third through fifth centuries and while it was of course much more difficult to fight such falsehoods, their writings and pronouncements offer to us truths that have withstood the test of time.
From the earliest of testimonies we read in the New Testament writer James, the brother of the Lord, ethical teachings on both the importance and the dangers of communication. In his General Epistle, he puts it this way:
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.
While today’s press and media certainly have their obligations of maintaining a standard of truth in their offerings, Christians, especially the Bishops, Priests, and administrative authorities of the Church, have as their collective duty the sacred obligation of maintaining a high standard of ethical truths in speech, writings, and in behaviors, otherwise we become no better than the televangelists and the abusers I mentioned above.
Let it be known that this same standard also applies to individuals who assume roles of teaching our faith or culture and those who work with the youth within the Church.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life . . .” The Gospel writers most often prefaced the words with of Jesus with “In truth, in truth, I say to you, . . .”
If any are to be worthy servants of the Lord and the Church, then it is only truth that we are to offer by our words, deeds, and actions. Otherwise, we are no better than the charlatans and abusers I spoke of above.