Hey, Have You Heard the Latest?

Here’s another good reason to read the Bible regularly and think about it hard: It will help you avoid succumbing to pleasantly written nonsense.

Today’s example comes from that fine American magazine, The Atlantic. In this month’s number, a breezy Ben Healy tells us, in his come-hither headline, that “Gossip Is Good.” The subhead tells us that we haven’t misunderstood his meaning: “The surprising virtue of talking behind people’s backs.”

Healy acknowledges up front that gossip has a bad reputation. He quotes authorities as varied as advice columnist Ann Landers (“the faceless demon that breaks hearts and ruins careers”) and the Talmud (“the three-pronged tongue” that kills all three people involved: the teller, the listener, and the subject of the gossip). Even Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal gets invoked (“If people really knew what others said about them, there would not be four friends left in the world”).

Sounds pretty toxic and best avoided, right?

Not so fast. Healy sets these (old, outdated, outmoded) authorities aside and proceeds to shower us with Actual Truth—namely, the assured findings of social science. (That’s subversive teaching #1: It doesn’t matter what wise people have said. Focus on what social science claims instead.)

He trades, alas, in equivocation. He doesn’t define gossip as Ann Landers, the Talmud, and Blaise Pascal surely would have: injurious talk, conversation that selfishly targets another to the advantage of the gossipers.

This is the definition used in the Bible: “I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me” (Ps. 69:12). “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler” (Prov. 20:19); “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips” (Rom. 1:29); and “They are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say” (I Tim. 5:13).

That really sounds irredeemably evil, doesn’t it? And it’s not what Healy is talking about—except, it turns out, it is.