Tag Archives: words

A Christmastide message from 1885

Christmastide is an old liturgical word for the season that runs from Dec. 24 to Jan. 5, with specific times during those days varying within different types of churches.

Sometimes I’m curious to see how people in the United States have used less-familiar words like Christmastide because their origins tend to come from liturgical traditions more common on the other side of the Atlantic.

So I searched “Christmastide” in the Library of Congress’s database of old U.S. newspapers. That kind of search can provide a clue as to how words were used at certain times in U.S. history — or to what extent they were used.

For example, searching the database for “Christmastide” between 1789 and 1963, I found 6,385 returns.

Searching for “Christmas” during the same period, I found 1,382,961 returns.

That’s a big difference. “Christmastide” just wasn’t as popularly used during most of U.S. history, and maybe that gives some evidence toward the idea that American Christianity has tended to be less liturgical and less calendar-oriented. More “low church” and less “high church.” Possibly.

Beyond that, I can’t say the search for “Christmastide” revealed any special insights about religion in American — and I can’t say I read 6,385 returns — but I did find a seasonal message of reconciliation within a short, unsigned editorial in The Bossier Banner, Bellevue, Bossier Parish, La., Dec. 24, 1885:

And since love grows cold, sometimes with unwise estrangements, this Christmastide ought to send many out to regather and grasp the clues of ancient friendship. To those who clasp hands again after the long chill, and forgive, it should indeed be a merry Christmas.

Words against reality

Here’s a gift of insight for all things personal and political:

“The power of words over reality cannot be unlimited since, fortunately, reality imposes its own unalterable conditions. The rulers of totalitarian countries wish, of course, to be truthfully informed, but time and again they fall prey, inevitably, to their own lies and suffer unexpected defeats. Entangled in a trap of their own making, they attempt awkward compromises between their own need for truthful information and the quasiautomatic operations of a system that produces lies for everyone, including the producers.”

— Leszek Kolakowski, “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie” (1983)

Also see: “Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting” and “Christianity as propaganda; Christianity versus propaganda

 

Let there be language

Regarding the word “phenomenology” —

“Heidegger finds around that word a whole cluster of etymologies, all of them having an internal unity of meaning that brings us to the very center of his thought. The Greek word phainomenon is connected with the word phaos, light, and also with the word apophansis, statement or speech. The sequence of ideas is thus: revelation-light-language. The light is the light of revelation, and language itself is in this light. These may look like mere metaphors, but perhaps they are so only for us, whose understanding is darkened; for early man, at the very dawn of the Greek language, this inner link between light and statement (language) was a simple and profound fact, and it is our sophistication and abstractness that makes it seem to us ‘merely’ metaphorical.” — William Barrett, in his book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy

 

Words

“No word has the exact value of any other in the same or in another language.” — George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty
 
 

‘Words have real but relative meaning’

“The paradoxical idea that words have real but relative meaning leaves room for misrepresentation by those who wish to capture language for their own use. From ideologues to deconstructionists, they take the piece of the paradox that suits them and deform it by ignoring the rest.” — Jon Ralston Saul, in The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense

Bunkum & Boodle: Federal Government Accountants

“Bunkum & Boodle” sounds so much like an accounting firm or maybe a law firm, I just couldn’t resist.

Considering numbers represent finite units of wealth, and so aren’t quite as easily manipulated by abstract principles of interpretation, I’ll go with accounting.

vocabulary, lexicon, bunkum, boodle

Maybe I should call Bunkum & Boodle “Congressional Accountants,” or how about this:

Bunkum & Boodle Congressional Accounting

“Where nonsense guides the theft and expenditure of your money.”

Thanks, Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Day.

No analogy, please: it’s ALL bad language here

The following Internet meme is false.

Arminian Memes takes on so-called 'Calvinism'

In this internet meme, ‘Calvinism’ is presented as a matter of fate or chance.

Do you understand what the above Internet meme means?

Well, if you take Charles Spurgeon seriously, God’s love or hate isn’t even luck of the draw — meaning the above meme is inaccurate.

Remember, as John Piper says, Spurgeon believed each dust mote in a sunbeam is exactly where it’s at because of God’s appointment. Piper extrapolates from Spurgeon’s authority and passages in the Book of Proverbs and the Acts of the Apostles that God predetermined every sin.

Presumably, according to the Piper-Spurgeon view, God ordained, created, and engineered Language and languages, too.

So whatever you want to call it — providence, sovereignty, neo-Calvinism, predeterminism, or fatalism — it’s not luck-of-the-draw as suggested in the meme above, and it’s not merely about one’s eternal disposition, either.

It’s something worse.

It’s more like God saying, “I’m going to create a Sudanese girl who will be raped and murdered at age 12, and then send her to conscious eternal torment, for my good pleasure.”

You cannot honestly think, as an “out” for this horrible point of view, that God didn’t create the girl to be raped, but rather he just created the rapist to rape (as if that’s any better).

God as all-knowing and all-powerful — and if invested in the predetermined course of everything as Piper says — could not do one without doing the other.

A bit more recently than Spurgeon, A.W. Pink held a similar point of view, believing God not only decided who is saved and who is damned, but also orchestrated all sins.

Furthermore, Pink thought the true believer could take comfort in the heresy of others, as a way to know one is right, but thereby he implies a radical dehumanizing of the unorthodox and unbelievers, which seems like it would run against the grain of New Testament teachings about loving enemies, blessing persecutors, and forgiving those who know not what they do. (Not loving the function performed by enemies and persecutors, but loving the actual people.)

We rejoice in the sufferings of the heretics because the suffering of heretics lets us know God likes us more. Wow. To say it in a contemporary way, Pink missed the anti-narcissism message in the Bible.

The problem might not be strictly related to the moral outrage we ought to feel if this god was the Grand Puppeteer.

The problem probably relates to our human ability to understand anything.

Consider, for example, this passage from the First Epistle of John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Consider what has just been excerpted from First John and try to work it into the Spurgeon-Piper point of view.

John says God is love and tells us to love one another. He doesn’t seem too concerned about telling us how to love one another — maybe because he’s assuming a natural, intuitive understanding of what it is to love others.

Now consider the Spurgeon-Piper view: Each child suffering is suffering due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will and each situation in which someone does not help is also due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will.

Consider an analogy: A community of believers preaches that love is demonstrated in procreation for the purpose of experimenting on toddlers and young children.

Now, “God is love,” and if the Spurgeon-Piper stance is correct, God creates toddlers and young children for horrible traumas and painful deaths, because that’s what happens, and everything that happens is directly orchestrated by God.

We could stop here and ask, “How can God do terrible things while telling us to be like Him and to do the opposite of what He does?” We could, because after all: We’re supposed to be like God by loving others, and God’s so much about love that John says God is love, and God willfully and directly creates certain children for suffering, so Susan Smith very well could have been loving her children by drowning them.

You cannot comprehend this sentence

But I think the bigger problem might be the resulting implication that plain, everyday language has the absolute inability to say anything even analogous to God’s intended meaning.

The significance of that problem might not be immediately obvious. Let me put it this way: It’s as if God, as Creator of all things and omnipotent, has set up a situation in which He lobs words at people who will never understand the simplest idea of what He is saying.

Follow these points through, and please allow me to repeat just a little of what I’ve already said:

The New Testament is notorious for telling people to love their enemies, to love their neighbors, to love others in the believing community (despite the fact that these are the last things that characterize communities in which Spurgeon and Piper are highly valued).

In the context of love one another, John says, “God is love.” That suggests some kind of similarity.

As he thought about his audience, John must have intended for his readers to see a connection between how the believer is to live within community and what God ultimately is.

However, no one would ever assume love to motivate the creation of someone expressly for the purpose of horrible suffering, in a powerless earthly situation, followed by horrible suffering in a powerless eternal situation — no one, that is, except the Spurgeon-Piper-ites.

Now, let’s be clear about the Spurgeon-Piper view, because we have to understand its scope, and we have to look at it directly without flinching:

God’s decision to create a Sudanese girl and appoint her for rape and murder at the age of 13, followed by eternal damnation, is love in action.

You might argue her sins warranted her damnation.

But the Spurgeon-Piper view says, specifically, God placed her in that time, and in that place, and in her own sins, and in those horrible crimes, for his good pleasure.

This cannot be love or anything like it, unless we say that God has definitions of love, of good, of pleasure, completely opposed to our natural, intuitive senses of those words.

We cannot say that situation is distantly analogous to some complicated circumstance in which human love involves an indirect infliction of pain.

We have to say that situation is the absolute opposite of any idea or experience of love.

Any revelation through language, then, is not merely veiled by time, culture, and translation, but rather is completely darkened because what we understand as lovingkindness is not related to God’s idea of lovingkindness.

Furthermore, we open the door for people to claim they have received orders from God to harm others.

The biblical story of Abraham preparing to kill Issac (and finding the scapegoat) is easy to appreciate when it is assumed by Christians to be a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

But when a mother thinks God has told her to kill her own children, we must say it is possible that God has told her to do that because God’s idea of love is (1) beyond our comprehension and (2) compatible with torture and murder.

God makes girls to be raped and murdered, and that is supposed to be loving and His good pleasure — and all that is easy to justify in the abstract, until your daughter is raped and murdered because your all-powerful God thought it would be a good thing to bring about through His direct force of will.

Therefore, someone who carries out God’s will by murdering her own children, in one respect, could not do anything else, and in another respect, could not be legitimately criticized by those who have not murdered their own children.

God is love, and everything He does is righteous, and His love and righteousness are inseparable, and according to the Spurgeon-Piper view God does all the doing; therefore the murders of children are loving actions.

Now of course you may invent an abstract apparatus to get around this problem. You might say, To make these sections of the texts true and reasonable, we must invent a perspective by which these sections of texts become cohesive.

I’m guessing one would find a fitting work-around difficult, considering the depth and breadth of the problem.

Perhaps a theological way out for some people, at least for Christians, would go like this: theologically speaking, the death of Christ ended the tyranny of necessity.

In other words, love could triumph over the cause-and-effect, closed-universe system that made (in the Old Testament sense) animal sacrifice and damnation necessary.

Maybe. I’m not sure I believe that, but it could be intellectually honest.

I’m baffled that Piper and Spurgeon think they honor God by assigning rapes and murders to His direct will and intention — and I’m especially baffled that they do so while they claim a high view of Scripture.

So, are you sure you understand what the opening Internet meme means?