Moral Briefs – Chapter XC – Calumny

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonTo the malice of detraction calumny adds that of falsehood. It is a lie, which is bad; it is a report prejudicial to the character of another, which is worse; it is both combined, out of which combination springs a third malice, which is abominable. All the more so, since there can exist no excuse or reason in the light of which this sin may appear as a human weakness. Because slander is the fruit of deliberate criminal spite, jealousy and revenge, it has a character of diabolism. The calumniator is not only a moral assassin, but he is the most accomplished type of the coward known to man. If the devil loves a cheerful liar, he has one here to satisfy his affections.

This crime is one that can never be tolerated, no matter what the circumstances; it can never be justified on any grounds whatsoever; it is intrinsically evil, a sin of injustice that admits no mitigation. When slander is sworn to before the courts, it acquires a fourth malice, that of irreligion, and is called false testimony. It is not alone perjury, for perjury does not necessarily attack the neighbor’s good name; it is perjured calumny, a crime that deserves all the reprobation it receives in this world – and in the next.

To lie outright, deliberately and with malice aforethought, in traducing a fellow-man, is slander in its direct form; but such conditions are not required to constitute a real fault of calumny. It is not necessary to be certain that what you allege against your neighbor be false; it is sufficient that you be uncertain if it be true. An unsubstantiated charge or accusation, a mere rumor given out as worthy of belief, a suspicion or doubt clothed so as to appear a certainty, these contain all the malice and all the elements of slander clearly characterized. Charity, justice and truth alike are violated, guilt is there in unquestioned evidence. Whatever subterfuge, equivocation or other crooked proceeding be resorted to, if mendacity in any form is a feature of the aspersions we cast upon the neighbor, we sin by calumny, purely and simply.

Some excuse themselves on the plea that what they say, they give out for what it is worth; they heard it from others, and take no responsibility as to its truth or falsehood. But here we must consider the credulity of the hearers. Will they believe it, whether you do or not? Are they likely to receive it as truth, either because they are looking for just such reports, or because they know no better? And whether they believe it or not, will they, on your authority, have sufficient reason for giving credence to your words? May it not happen that the very fact of your mentioning what you did is a sufficient mark of credibility for others? And by so doing, you contribute to their knowledge of what is false, or what is not proven true, concerning the reputation of a neighbor.

For it must be remembered that all imprudence is not guiltless, all thoughtlessness is not innocent of wrong. It is easy to calumniate a person by qualifying him in an off-hand way as a thief, a blackleg, a fast-liver, etc. It is easy, by adding an invented detail to a statement, to give it an altogether different color and turn truth into falsehood. But the easiest way is to interpret a man’s intentions according to a dislike, and, by stringing in such fancies with a lot of facts, pass them on unsuspecting credulity that takes all or none. If you do not think well of another, and the occasion demand it, speak it out; but make it known that it is your individual judgment and give your reasons for thus opining.

The desperate character of calumny is that, while it must be repaired, as we shall see later, the thing is difficult, often impossible; frequently the reparation increases the evil instead of diminishing it. The slogan of unrighteousness is: “Calumniate, calumniate, some of it will stick!” He who slanders, lies; he who lies once may lie again, a liar is never worthy of belief, whether he tells the truth or not, for there is no knowing when he is telling the truth. One has the right to disbelieve the calumniator when he does wrong or when he tries to undo it. And human nature is so constructed that it prefers to believe in the first instance and to disbelieve in the second.

You may slander a community, a class as well as an individual. It is not necessary to charge all with crime; it is sufficient so to manipulate your words that suspicion may fall on any one of said class or community. If the charge be particularly heinous, or if the body of men be such that all its usefulness depends on its reputation, as is the case especially with religious bodies, the malice of such slander acquires a dignity far above the ordinary.

The Church of God has suffered more in the long centuries of her existence from the tongue of slander than from sword and flame and chains combined. In the mind of her enemies, any weapon is lawful with which to smite her, and the climax of infamy is reached when they affirm, to justify their dishonesty, that they turn Rome’s weapons against her. There is only one answer to this, and that is the silence of contempt. Slander and dollars are the wheels on which moves the propaganda that would substitute Gospel Christianity for the superstitions of Rome. It is slander that vilifies in convention and synod the friars who did more for pure Christianity in the Philippines in a hundred years than the whole nest of their revilers will do in ten thousand. It is slander that holds up to public ridicule the congregations that suffer persecution and exile in France in the name of liberty, fraternity, etc. It is slander that the long-tailed missionary with the sanctimonious face brings back from the countries of the South with which to regale the minds of those who furnish the Bibles and shekels. And who will measure the slander that grows out of the dunghill of Protestant ignorance of what Catholics really believe!