Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa*, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
✵Raqa: An Aramaic term of abuse meaning idiot or imbecile or blockhead.
Who is an Idiot? A Dolt? A Dullard? A Dunce? On a daily -- even hourly -- basis (especially if you are driving a car), you are likely to label others with the some of the terms above. But do you realize what you are saying about those persons? Do you know the true, full meaning of those epithets?
Those persons may not hear what we are calling them; but God always hears what we call others. Considering what Our Lord Jesus taught us – as captured above in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (5:20-26) – we had better be careful about freely sticking these labels on others.
Here is a short explanation of what these labels are really saying about others:
An Idiot, Dolt, or Dullard is:
- A mentally deficient person, with an IQ of 0-25.
- Someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way.
- An idiot is said to be idiotic and suffers from idiocy.
- A dunce is an idiot who is specifically incapable of learning.
Addlehead Airhead Ass Birdbrain Blockhead Bonehead Boob Bozo Chowderhead Chump Clod Coot Dingbat Dipstick Ditz Dodo Dolt Donkey Dope Dork Dullard Dumb Cluck Dumbhead Dumbo Dumdum Dummy Dunce Dunderhead Fathead Flake Fool Galoot Goat Goober Goof Goofball Goofus Goon Halfwit Idiot Ignoramus Imbecile Jerk Jughead Klutz Lamebrain Lummox Meatball Nerd Nincompoop Ninny Nitwit Numbskull Peabrain Sap Schlemiel Schlep Simpleton Thickhead Turkey Twerp Twit Zombie
An idiot differs from -- a fool (a person who is unwise) and from an ignoramus (a person who is uneducated) -- neither of which refer to someone with low intelligence.
Who is a Moron, or an Imbecile, or a Cretin?
These three synonymous terms for idiot gained specialized meanings in modern times.
Moron originated in the early twentieth century as a medical-psycho-logical term denoting an adult with a mental age of about 8–12, or with an IQ of 51-70. Moron is used today as offensive slang for a person considered stupid.
Imbecile arises from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak, or weak-minded. Imbecile refers to a person with mental retardation, with an IQ of 26-50. Imbecile is closely associated with psychology, psychiatry, criminology, and eugenics.
Imbecile was further refined into mental and moral imbecility.
The concepts of moral insanity, moral idiocy, and moral imbecility, led to a social engineering movement called eugenic criminology, which held that the crime rate could be lowered by preventing "feeble-minded" people from reproducing.
Imbecile as a concrete classification was popularized by psychologist Henry H. Goddard and was used in 1927 by United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his landmark ruling in the forced-sterilization case Buck v. Bell.
After this, imbecile quickly passed into vernacular usage as a derogatory term. It fell out of professional use in the 20th century.
A cretin is a person suffering from congenital iodine-deficiency syndrome. A person who suffers from Cretinism experiences severely stunted physical and mental growth because of an untreated congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones (congenital hypothyroidism) originating from a maternal nutritional deficiency of iodine.
Cretin saw wide use as a medical classification in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Subsequently, cretin spread more widely into popular English vernacular as a manifestly derogatory term for a person who behaves stupidly.
As Catholics, we must always remain conscious of the power that words contain. Words can build up, support, and transform others:
- Pick up you mat, and walk.
- Little girl, get up!
- Show yourselves to the priests.
- Lazarus, come out!
- Let the one without sin be the first to cast a stone.
- Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.
- This is my Body; this is my Blood.
- Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… .
- I love you.
- Here, let me help you with that.
- Please forgive me. I apologize.
- You moron!
- Stupid idiot!
- Dumb blonde!
- I hate you.
- Go to hell!
- Fat pig!
- Ugly brute!
- Et cetera, et cetera.
In His human nature, Our Lord Jesus has a sense of humor, irony, and satire as we do (or we should have). He knows how to comically tease others or kid others, just as we do -- without degrading or humiliating them.
One fine example of His sense of humor gets mentioned in Saint Mark’s Gospel (3:13-19), wherein Our Lord, after praying, calls twelve apostles to Himself, to journey with Him. Saint Mark includes this tidbit: the Zebedee Brothers’ nickname, given by Our Lord:
“And He appointed twelve to be with Him: …James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-aner’ges, that is, “the sons of thunder” (3:17).
Saint Luke’s Gospel (9:51-56) explains the reason for their nickname. Our Lord sent out the apostles as messengers ahead of Him, to make the people ready for Him. One Samaritan village refused to receive Him because He was intent upon heading toward Jerusalem. “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (9:54-56).
Our Lord Jesus gave James and John the dubious and comedic title, “the sons of thunder.” It was a humorous, yet a sober reminder to James and John – and to the other ten apostles -- that their mission is to save others, not incinerate them.
Obviously, James and John did not feel deeply insulted or unfairly humiliated by the comedic title Our Lord Jesus gave them – because they stayed with Him. And you can surmise that -- from that point on -- James and John didn’t moonlight as the sons of thunder anymore.
As for you and me, let’s leave the insults and derogatory put-downs to the likes of Ren and Stimpy. They are mere celluloid images. You and I, human beings, apex of God's creation, are being called to a high dignity. We are to be just like Christ – in every way.
Here is one way we can begin to avoid the sin of humiliating others by labeling them. Perform the following, brief, spiritual exercise for several days, a few times each day.
For a few minutes, using the passage below from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, replace the terms “raqa” and “fool” with the contemporary derogatory labels you apply to others:
“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, _____ , will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says ‘You _____ ’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”This little exercise may prevent you from becoming eligible for first class seats to the Valley Of Gehenna and its famous sea of fire and brimstone.
Oh, and happier motoring!