Tag Archives: meaning

Polarized Words

Creatures of the Night
This article got me thinking for a moment.

Think for a second of words, usually adjectives, that oh say 60 years ago meant one thing, but today they have accrued a positive or a negative connotation.

Two big ones might be ‘liberal’ and ‘religious’. A liberal used to be someone who was open to different ways of doing things. Its core derivation came from the Latin word for free. A liberal was a free man. Over the previous 60 years (the heavy lifting done by Nixon) a liberal is now a sexual libertine communist. Religious used to mean pertaining to the ceremonies or rites of a religion. Spirituality was expressed in a religious way. Being religious was being devotional. Something like daily prayer was a religious activity. Now religious means roughly voodoo ooga-booga. The heavy lifting done by press treatment of religion amounting to: a) covering the extreme fringe as representative, b) covering churches as sociological expeditions and c) covering churches as pop-psychology instead of doctrinal (i.e. worldview) systems. The net effect is that we now have progressives and spirituals.

Now languages develop. Words change, become obsolete or archaic, come into vogue. (Google’s ngram viewer is fascinating in this regard. The picture is the result of it. Notice how our creatures of the night experience creation, growth, decay, fade and even fad. There are hints of truth in any polarized word. But a couple of things have entered into our world that make this more menacing. First is “Rule 13”, Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

RULE 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Changing the language to favor causes is now a strategy. Especially if you can create a poster child for the language change. Ask yourself why The Families of Newtown are still in the national news, while Kermit Gosnell’s late term abortion/infanticide mill trial for murder is a local and religious press only story. What poster children for what cause are trying to be created and buried? Why?

The second reason is twitter. As far as I can see, one of the main uses of twitter is as an up to the minute dictionary. What words are being polarized and who is being targeted and frozen by them is settled on twitter. And it happens fast. What might have taken a decade now happens in a few months. It might not reach everyone, but everyone with a ‘platform’ meaning a real ability to affect large institutions gets the messages fast. What you read in a book a year later as gospel truth, and heard as news either on the TV or in the printed paper today, was tweeted and vocabularied on twitter yesterday on in the previous week.

For a religion that also calls its cornerstone THE WORD and has a rich theology around that name, words and definitions are meaningful. So much so that the Reformers had a phrase: “scripture interprets scripture”. A real shorthand of that would be if you are pondering what a particular word means in scripture get out the concordance and look how it is used elsewhere in scripture. That is part of what it means to be formed by The Word or to build on the cornerstone. And what that does is give you some place solid to stand. As the sands around shift, Christ does not change.

How do you read the Bible?


This was a short article from the WSJ that explores some of the background behind a few recent news stories. The stories I’m thinking of most recently are: the Calvin College professor named in the article, Michelle Bachmann and the pope/antichrist or on submission, Tim Tebow, and World Youth Day.

Think for a second of all the people behind those stories – a college professor, a congresswoman running for president, a quarterback, a pope and thousands of largely western (i.e. wealthy) Roman Catholic Kids. All those people are Christian. One of the easy ways to tell that is look at the coverage they all got in the standard media which usually boils down to, “look at these kooks, we don’t get them, but there seem to be a lot of them, look at all the Tebow Jerseys and they guy has played 3 games”. My guess is that if you put the professor, the NFL quarterback and the pope into a bar you’d have an interesting discussion. They’d all agree on the life of Jesus and in slightly different words what it means. (Boil it down to Incarnation, Ministry, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and atonement or salvation.) But ask them about Adam and Eve, or modern Jews and Israel or the military or even sports and watch the differences.

The big word behind this is hermeneutics. That is the big word for how one interprets meaning from any source: written, verbal, or you name it. We read and interpret the Bible. Christians find Christ at the center of that interpretation. That is why the pope, Tebow and the professor actually have more in common together than with most of the journalists covering their stories irregardless of their many differences. At least for me (and Irenaeus who I’m stealing from/leaning on) that is the central role of the creeds. These are the things we all agree on. They lay out the boundaries of hermeneutics. If you read the bible and come up with something that breaks what the creeds say…go back and read again because you got something wrong. At the center of those creeds is the life of Christ and its meaning.

I also wanted to link to this story because of the picture. That is a 1993 work of art – so it is modern. And it was visually striking. There is a physical Adam and Eve, and I suppose that could be a blanket, but in a certain manner it looks like a burial shroud or a veil. In the middle of garden, death was coiled and things hidden. Coming at that picture with Christian eyes you would interpret a whole different set of things than if you were biblically illiterate.