I think my friends would agree that I’m not noted for the moderation of my disapproval; my language of condemnation tends towards the robust. Nigel Farage is a performing fart; Jeremy Hunt is a capon; and Boris Johnson? Johnson is always and only an asshole. I like the genuine English “arse” and would often use it in preference to an americanism, but there’s something about the brutal specificity and casual contempt of “asshole” which expresses my reaction to Johnson. In fact, it seems to me that part of his strategy in this election is to come out boldly as an asshole:
”My competitor tries to come on as a good guy, believe that if you want; but I am happy to stand before you as an asshole, the same kind of asshole as most Tory voters, knowing that you will trust me as one of you.”
I would be quite happy to defend this judgement in public, but I have to reckon with a higher court of judgement: Jesus said that the man who called his brother an asshole would be in danger of hellfire. He did so in the context of radicalising the commandment, Thou shalt not kill. He was not content with a prohibition of actual violence but looked at its causes such as contempt, hatred and hate – speech. Would he have warned me about my “robust” language? I think so, because it arises from my standing in judgement, my sense of superiority, my righteousness and my contempt, all of which he wanted his followers to uproot from their hearts.
But wait a minute! Didn’t Jesus condemn his opponents in fairly robust terms? His description of the scribes and pharisees as hypocrites comes to mind. Nobody likes to be called a hypocrite. But in Jesus’ time the word meant “play actor” which is robust enough but is simply an accurate depiction of the kind of insincere legalism he was attacking. Jesus obviously was not against tough-talking, of which his Bible included some good examples, especially by the prophets. Amos once compared rich women to a herd of cows. His own blunt descriptions of his disciples as slow-minded, blind and small in faith, plus his put-down of Simon as Satan show that his frankness extended to friends as well as foes. So how come he condemns people for saying asshole? First of all I have to admit he didn’t actually specify “asshole”; the precise quotation gives the Aramaic word “raqa” which is variously translated as “fool”, “idiot” “worthless,” and may be pretty forceful. I think Jesus was forbidding self-righteousness and contempt: these are on the road to violence.
It’s a tough call but I see the point, particularly when I think of some of Johnson’s robust speech, his “picaninnies with their watermelon smiles,” for example, where I can see clearly the contempt which wants the approval of other bullies. If I want to protect others from this sort of abuse, I should not use it myself.
And Jesus asks me to remember that Boris is my brother, however little I, or he, might like that description