Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
I have suggested in previous articles that I am lover of words, a real logophile, which is a legitimate word even though it is not recognized by my spell check. It comes from the Greek word logos, which means word or speech, and phile, which means friend or lover.
I have to admit, one of my favorite apps is a dictionary that gives me a word for the day; some are fairly common, a few obscure and interesting, and some just obscure. After a discussion a few weeks ago, I proposed a question to myself: What do you call gossip on Facebook or other social media? Would there be some new high-tech term to describe this arguably ancient practice?
I understand the politically correct description is “the transmission of near factual information,” but is that an accurate enough definition to do gossip in the information age? This human failing is obviously a concern because it’s in God’s top ten list — usually referred to as the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
OK, I know it’s clear down the list as number nine, and you could say it refers to court proceedings given the reference to the word testimony. But I think that may come under the heading of avoidance. Even if you are not convinced the verse refers to gossip, I would remind you that the word gossip does not appear in the King James Version. The word is usually translated as “talebearer” and without going to far into the Hebrew, it comes from a word that refers to a traveling scandal-monger.
While social media travels, it still may be missing something in translation, so it may not be a good fit. A quick study reveals that that talebearer is replaced by gossip in the modern translations, but it is never seen in a positive light, in fact it always does damage.
In Proverbs gossip betrays confidences, stirs up dissension, and keeps arguments going and going, kind of like a bad energizer bunny. Proverbs also reminds us that gossip goes down easily. It is described as a “choice morsel”; a little truth mixed in makes the gossip even more appealing, but it is certainly not required. In fact, truth may get in the way of a perfectly good rumor.
In the New Testament, Paul wrote to the churches at Corinth that he was afraid when he came back to visit them he would find significant problems. He included gossip among some other related behaviors like quarreling, jealousy, factions, and disorder.
I am afraid my scriptural research did not bring me any closer to a word to describe electronic age gossip, but it did reinforce the problems associated with it. I was reading in the technology section of a weekly magazine about three apps that provide the ability to post comments about anyone anonymously. You can say anything you want about anyone you want without email or password. Surprise, it opened a whole new avenue for the spread of damaging misinformation.
Perhaps the best way to describe electronic gossip is simply fast gossip. In Paul’s day and for centuries after, gossip had to go from “house to house.” Now it can be done by simply pressing “Enter.”
Upton is pastor of Tooele’s First Assembly of God Church.