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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Detraction

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(Lat. detractio, from detrahere) means primarily taking off from a thing; and in morals it is the act of depreciating another's reputation. Barrow observes (Works, N. Y. edition, 1:203 sq.) that it differs from slander, which involves an imputation of falsehood; from reviling, which includes bitter and foul language; and from censuring, which is of a more general purport, extending indifferently to all kinds of persons, qualities, and actions; but detraction especially respects worthy persons, good qualities, and laudable actions, the reputation of which it aimeth to destroy. It is a fault opposed to candor. "Nothing can be more incongruous with the spirit of the Gospel, the example of Christ, the command of God, and the love of mankind, than a spirit of detraction; and yet there are many who never seem happy but when they are employed in this work; they feed and live upon the supposed infirmities of others; they allow excellence to none; they depreciate every thing that is praiseworthy; and, possessed of no good themselves, they think all others are like them. O! my soul, come thou not into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united'" (Buck, Theolog. Dict. s.v.). "When we consider the motives in which detraction originates, we shall find that most of them spring from, or center in, malevolence. In some persons there is a lust of distinction, which cannot endure an equal, and burns with a desire to level the pre-eminence of every superior.

In whatever degree this disposition may prevail, it is combined with a desire to eclipse the worth, or to deduct from the excellence of those above, or those on a level of ability or merit with itself. Hence, if we would eradicate every propensity to detraction, it is essentially requisite that we cultivate a humble spirit, and that, impressed with a consciousness of our own unworthiness, we learn to think and to speak of others more justly as well as more charitably. Some persons of mean talents, slender capacity, groveling desires, or little industry, who are too timid to undertake any thing good or great, or too feeble or too indolent to execute it, are continually endeavoring to screen themselves from contempt, or to hide their own individual insignificance by depreciating the worth, railing at the audacity, or ridiculing the exertions of those who have more ability, more enterprise, more intellect, and more activity than them; selves. There is no integrity, however pure, no worth, however genuine, which is not exposed to invidious obscuration, to unjust surmises, and wily misrepresentation; and designing and interested men, who abound in the wisdom of this world, well know how to convert these practices to their own advantage, and to the injury of their neighbor. If detraction be found in a greater degree, or of a more mischievous kind, in a court than in a village, it is only because in the former there is a stronger incitement to its exercise, and more ample space for its operations. Detraction tends to reduce the best men to a level with the worst, and thus to bring worth itself into disrepute. It tends to chill the ardor of doing good, and to produce a general belief that all the virtue which exists among men is imaginary and counterfeit. It involves in itself a high degree of depravity, and is connected with the violation of every moral tie. Is it not adverse to justice? Is it not incompatible with charity? Is it not a plain dereliction of our duty to God? For is it not principally occupied in lessening the estimation of the good and wise, who are more especially the objects of his favor, and the excellence of his rational creation? Must not the practice, therefore, bring us under the divine displeasure? Is there not in the habit so large a mixture of malevolence as necessarily implies that we are strangers to the love of God; and, if we will persist in so hateful a practice, can we hope to escape that place of torment in which there are weeping and gnashing of teeth? (Fellowes's Body of Theology, 2:352, 367; Warner's System of Divinity and Morality, 2:90)."


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Detraction'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/d/detraction.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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