Reclaiming Language

May 18, 2006

Here are a couple of stories about Christians attempting to reclaim words that have taken on different meanings than they originally had. Some Christians in Canada are putting up posters reminding people of the true and sacred meaning of some words now being used as cuss words. The article does not say what the words are used to mean, other than that they "roll so easily off the tongues of many francophones when they stub a toe or strike a thumb with a hammer."

Words these Christians are attempting to reclaim include several involving communion (English versions are in parentheses): ciboire (ciborium), hostie (hosts), calisse (chalice), sacristie (sacristy), and sacrement (sacrament).

Reverend Jean Boyer explained, "There are a lot of people in our society who don't even know what these words mean anymore. ... We're hoping once the shock passes, people will think more about the true meaning of the words. There are many young people who don't even know that in old times this was blasphemy."

Back in the United States, Time magazine's Andrew Sullivan wants to reclaim the word "Christian" from those who pervert it with political agendas. He argues:

So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. ... I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.
These are some interesting and important discussions. Words are important. We must be careful how we use them so that we do not miscommunicate. Because of the power and importance of words, whoever gets to pick what words mean and what words are even used has a great amount of power and influence. For instance, consider the difference between "pro-life" and "anti-abortion." The former is a much more positive term.

Because of this importance we must not allow the world or those who misuse our faith to be given sole definitional power. Hopefully the Canadian Christians and Sullivan will be successful in their efforts.