A Polite Society

A religious minister in the UK founded the Polite Society in 1986. Later they changed the name to “the Campaign for Courtesy” as they decided that the word “polite” had passed its sell-by date. Politeness can be defined as “The act of showing respect or regard for others”. Wikipedia defines it this way: “Politeness is best expressed as the practical application of good manners or etiquette”.

However, there is the “Polite Society” organisation in the USA which is actually about guns and weapons, and they state that “Our name derives from Robert Heinlein’s famous quotation, ‘An armed society is a polite society.’” I would suggest that the quotation, and their adoption of it, is a misuse of the phrase.

One writer on an Internet forum opined: “Yet, it is that acceptable social condition called politeness that polite society itself, through its repression and recrimination has been the greatest source of the travesties and injustices of Man against Fellow Man.” Having read that phrase a number of times, I’m still unsure what he means except that politeness does not rank high on his list of attributes.

Showing respect and regard for others is not about carrying and using guns, nor is it repressive or recriminatory. It is simply another definition that echoes the requirement of a true Christian. It is certainly about courtesy, good manners and etiquette and considers others as much as self.

It was interesting to read the story that youngsters gave up their seats on a bus to two pensioners (who were two of the founder members of the National Polite Society). The couple was so impressed by their courteous behaviour that they nominated them for a Polite Society award. I am sure this was encouraging to the recipients, but it does reflect that which should be the norm in society is now considered old fashioned, out of date or unnecessary! Not so, some decades ago, but politeness is not something that seems “cool” today.

One quotation I read was very interesting when the writer said: “One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.”

William Arnot, a clergyman, wrote in his book “Illustrations of the Book of Proverbs”: “I do not say that politeness will do as a substitute for religion; but politeness is of use as the handmaid of religion. Indeed, rude speech and manners are both the signs of moral evil already existing, and the causes of increasing it… Christianity with its living power in the heart will produce refinement in the manners; and outward refinement will throw a shield round inward principle, and keep it out of harm’s way.”

The Bible sums up, succinctly, the qualities needed to reflect our calling, showing politeness and courtesy:

• “Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others” (Philippians 2:3 NJB).  
• “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).  
• “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10 NIV).  
• “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8 New King James Version)

Pentecost, which we’ve just celebrated, was the time when the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament Church (See Acts chapter 2). Today, baptised members of the true Church of God can reflect their calling by being polite and courteous in a dark society, which emphasises the promotion of self and other carnal traits. Our way is the opposite to that, as Scripture reveals. It is a way that improves society, creates happiness and ensures that we are moving towards being in the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return.

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