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Have you ever noticed that whenever you or a friend begins to get (righteously) combative about the truth, that others begin to try and gag them with "niceness?" And have you noticed that people expect that when "be nice" is invoked it should automatically end the conversation?
Do not be fooled. While we are to be well mannered, being nice, especially about important matters, is not mandatory by any means. Niceness is so firmly ensconced in our society as a cardinal virtue that we forget its dubious origins.
Nice's ancestry goes back to a Latin construction that renders into English as "ignorant," "unaware" and, depending on the context, "clueless." It would keep its pejorative meaning for almost 2,000 years. Into the early modern period it began to take on a more nuanced definition, becoming synonym of "naïve." It has only been in the last 200 years that "nice" has taken on the meaning of agreeableness, and finally, kind.
This agreeableness is very new, and almost exclusively a feature of the First World. Looking back at societal norms, as recently as 50 years ago in some parts of the West, the expectation was to not be nice when the situation calls for it. To knuckle under for the sake of keeping the peace would have you labeled a coward.
Being "nice" is carelessly invoked by less zealous clergy these days as if it were self-evidently a virtue, but a quick tour of the Bible shows that, while many figures display kindness and mercy, few are what we would call "nice" or "agreeable" (which is what these clerics really mean by "nice").
The Old Testament is full of people willing to get very disagreeable if the situation called for it. Sometimes the situation would even call for violence; the Patriarchs smashed idols and waged war.
You may remember Joseph's kindness to his brothers who sold him into slavery. But his mercy was a double-edged sword. It forced his brothers to confront their sin, to recognize their deeply shameful acts. In a very real way, "mercy" hurts. Few would consider this an "agreeable" experience.
Coming out of their captivity, the Israelites, with Moses as their leader, did not hesitate to inflict massive casualties on the cold-hearted Egyptians. Moses also led the "stiff-necked" and obstinate Israelites with a very firm hand.
The judges, too, were not "nice." Most of their exploits involved fighting the enemies of Israel. The age of the kings and prophets was also marked by men and women who acted and spoke the truth unabashedly and forthrightly.
Moving on to the New Testament, Christ Himself is turned into some kind of "God of Niceness" by those who want the Church to be soft-spoken and unchallenging. But Christ is anything but "nice."
Christ is an alarming figure Who said strange and terrifying things. Even to his ardent followers He gave a lot to digest — truths that did not go down easily. He showed mercy to sinners in a way that shattered His disciples' notions of social interaction. He was often frustrated at His disciples for their cluelessness (ironically, the original Latin meaning for "nice") and would make His frustration known. And he would use loaded, blistering language with sinners who refused to acknowledge their sin.
The age of Apostles was no different. Ananias and Sapphira actually died because they lied to the Holy Spirit. Far from being aghast, St. Peter actually prophesied Sapphira's fate seconds before her doom.
Saint Paul was unafraid to get himself into trouble. He was whipped, stoned, beaten, left for dead and more. Nobody stones a man because he's "nice." The Roman empire had multiple religions at the time, but something about St. Paul's witness was uniquely off-putting enough to incite wicked men to violence.
Among the Church's thousands of saints, there is an innumerable crowd of those martyred for offending the sensibilities of those entrenched in sin.
So the next time someone calls you out for not being "nice" when sharing the Faith, it might be good to ask him by what grounds and by what Catholic tradition should you be "nice." From Genesis to Revelation, we encounter holy men and women of all shapes, sizes and temperaments, none of them "nice" in the way our culture wants.
"Be nice" is nothing more than a weapon used by the establishment to bully you into not rocking the boat. Do not fall into the trap and offer incense to the idol of "nice." If you wish to inherit the kingdom of Heaven, it might be incumbent on you to imitate the saints, Fathers, prophets, and most of all the King Himself, and get busy being disagreeable toward a world that loves sin and hates the truth.