“that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Words. The verbal expressions of thoughts, ideas, and concepts, usually utilized to communicate such thoughts and ideas to another person. As we speak words, the images in our minds flow almost magically into the minds of our listeners. Furthermore, words can be incredibly forceful in their conveyance of ideas: if I say or write the words Purple Penguin, anyone listening or reading has no choice but to imagine a violet, flightless bird. Powerful indeed! I want to write further on the power of words, but will save that conversation for another post. Suffice it to say that we should be aware of the force we wield as we converse with words.
Having been in several heated conversations lately, both online and face to face, I’ve come to realize that many of my debates have been around the definitions of words. We define ourselves with words all the time, and if someone comes down on one of our self-descriptors, defensiveness can ensue. As a Christian, I consider myself religious. Several other Christians I know, however, believe that Christianity is a faith, and not a religion, and go so far as to argue against religion. I believe that this disagreement stems not from our ideas about Christianity, but about our definitions of religion. To my understanding, religion is an organized system of beliefs, something I’m sure few Christians would deny about Christianity. Christians adhere to a certain set of beliefs about God and the world. Since I also follow this set of beliefs, I consider myself religious. Yet to others, religion is the rules, regulations, and rituals foisted upon people by those who consider themselves righteous. It is the empty piety of the hypocritical Pharisees that Christ fought against in the Gospels. I am definitely not in favour of such practices, but to my understanding, the word hypocrisy might be a better word for this definition, not the word religion. Thus, in this situation, my opponents and I are not arguing about the concept of religion, but about the definition of the word.
This is all further confused by the evolution of language. English, especially, seems to be changing almost on a daily basis. New words are added each year to our dictionaries as legitimate words, and common usage of words changes to meet the social demands of the day. This raises the question: Which is a more legitimate use of a word, it’s traditional meaning, or the meaning it has adopted by the greatest percentage of people? There may not be an answer to this question, but if we are going to be discussing such personal issues as faith and art, then we will need to make sure we are discussing the issues at hand and not the minutiae of word meanings. We have bigger fish to fry.
For this reason, I would like to set in place several definitions of key terms that will be frequently used along this journey. I am not going to use my definitions, because my understanding of words is biased, and we need a neutral ground for conversation. I am going to use the 1998 Oxford Dictionary, for no other reason than it is the one I have in my house. If anyone wants to disagree with a definition here, please comment, and we can see if we can come to a better understanding.
Without further ado, here are some words we will probably use throughout our future conversations:
Religion: belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship; expression of this in worship; particular system of faith and worship
Faith: complete trust or confidence; firm, especially religious, belief; religion or creed
Love: deep affection or fondness
Hate: dislike intensely
Tolerate: allow the existence or occurrence of without authoritative interference; endure
God: I really want to leave this definition up to each person. If your understanding of God or god is specific, please elaborate to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Art: Another word I’m hesitant to define, as exploring art is one of the purposes of this blog. For reference, Oxford defines art as: human creative skill or its application; work showing this
As we continue on our journey, I plan to update this list with any problematic or enigmatic words we encounter. We can now embark on an exploration of the arts, faith, and religion with fewer misunderstandings than before. Everyone ready? Then let’s move out!
July 23, 2013 at 6:39 PM
This was simple…yet I really enjoyed it! I definitely got to the point in my walk where I’d stop saying I was “religious” but moreso – “I have a relationship with Jesus.” (because of all the hypocritical reasons you listed!) But I agree with everything you said on that topic and perhaps I should be taking the word “religious” back and glorifying it for God.
July 25, 2013 at 7:00 PM
Thanks for the encouragement! Every few days I have this conversation with myself, asking if we need to be coming up with new words as our old words are hijacked and given new meanings, or if we should be fighting for the real meaning of the word? I am torn, because I don’t know if it’s a fight I can win, and if the time and effort spent could be better spent on something more proactive. I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page.