In his The Language of Nature, Steve Talbott writes: “The intimate relation between the meaning of our words and the meaning we find in the world may be so obvious as to seem almost trivial, yet its implications are so profound.”(1) Words are the bearers of reality. Yet, the meaning of words is slowly being eroded by, among others, the (ever increasing) noise made by moral relativists.
A cute little story in D. A. Carson’s Telling the Truth illustrates this perfectly.(2) A major network had as their first item of news a survey asking people if words meant anything specific at all. Having concluded that there were significant variances in the way people used words, they next inquired if morality was purely a personal matter, or if there were indeed absolutes. Every person interviewed on the street answered the same way: “No! There is no objective morality; we have to define it in our own terms.” First item: Were words subject to the user? Second item: Was morality a personal matter? Having settled on a confused answer that left the individual lord over reality, the newscaster went on to discuss a third item on the news—a warning to Saddam Hussein. If he did not stop playing his word games, we (USA) were going to start bombing Iraq.
One word that has definitely caused confusion is the word progressive. Google tells us its usage spiked dramatically in the nineteenth century and mentions remain high despite a small drop in the early years of the 21st century (see graph below). As this BBC article declares, “progressive is everywhere.” (3)
According to the article, progressives tend to see themselves as people who believe in reform, in changing society for the better, as opposed to conservatives, who they believe want to keep things the same or even turn the clock back. They are some who consider themselves the socially liberal – favoring more rights for women, gay people and minorities. They believe in “modernization” and technological progress. They also believe in the redistribution of wealth. But a new breed of liberal and conservative thinkers is challenging this – much to the irritation of the traditional keepers of the progressive flame on the left. It is getting pretty heated out there, the article concludes.
In his The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis illustrates the enslaving force of corrupt(ed) words. (4)
In this particular scene, the Ape is explaining to the Narnians the new partnership he has inked with the Calormene soldiers from the south who had been such sworn enemies of Narnia and suggests that they are now friends and compatriots. A little lamb who could take the Ape’s words no longer then chose to speak up. “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash…They kill men on his alter. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”
The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb. “What do you understand of such things?”, he replied, “Tash is only another name for Aslan. We know better now. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
The resulting effect of this announcement for the gathered Narnian beasts is described by Lewis as one of sadness and defeat. In this very statement, through the creation of an imagined deity who will later be referenced as Tashlan, the Ape turned the entire meaning of the Narnian’s history and beliefs on its head. And to their king this effect did not go unnoticed nor would he let it stand unchallenged.
“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an ape.” With that single claim, that Aslan and Tash were one, Tirian was able to see past the charade and reveal the very heart of the lie.
“It seems, then,” said the Unicorn, “That there is a real Tash, after all.” He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.
The Greek word logos means not only “word” but “reason,” hastening the notion that there is not only meaning at the heart of all things but there is one who speaks and bestows this meaning. The Christian worldview interprets all of life and time through this medium. We live within a story of words, reason, and meaning in which there is an author telling us what it means to be human, what it means to be here.
There is a connectedness between our words and our humanity, between the Word at the beginning and what is real today. Those who stand alert in the world of words, who fight the corruption of language, and who learn to let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” shall see something more through the glass darkly. In fact, they may see the God who first spoke a word and brought the world into existence. (5)
In the beginning there was the Word!
(1) Steve Talbott, “The Language of Nature” The New Atlantis, Number 15, Winter 2007, 41-76.
(2) D. A. Carson, Telling the Truth (2012)
(4) Chronicles of Narnia – The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
(5) Jill Carratini (2016). Words, Language and Humanity: http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/words-language-and-humanity/