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.