So presumably, you’ve had a chance to see this video from the Family Policy Institute of Washington, but if not have a look above. Or refresh yourself.
This video is at turns funny, sad, and alarming. But it’s a wonderful case study in basic reasoning and logic skills. And this is the alarming part: not merely that people are saying ridiculous things, but this is a full blown Babel phenomenon. People are saying words, and we’re all familiar with them but the meaning is being systematically drained from all of them. Six foot? Chinese? Woman?
The gospel of liberalism is the promise of freedom from tyranny and oppression. And the great Satan of liberalism is objective truth because — the masses have been catechized to believe — objective truth is the slippery slope to tyranny. If you believe your truth trumps all other experiences, all other cultures, all other beliefs, you’re just a fundamentalist jackboot away from forcing your reality down my throat.
So the liberal gospel preaches the grace of tolerance, the grace of relativism with the goal of freedom and happiness. Be sure: the children growing up catechized in this gospel are being warned that religion (and Christianity in particular) is the cause of many (if not most) of the evils in the history of the world. From the crusades to the Inquisition to the conquistadors to American chattel slavery, the narrative is that Christian fundamentalism leads to violence, coercion, slavery, injustice all propped up with Bible verses and appeals to an invisible power in the sky (the same power which, by the way, sent the flood, ordered the massacre of Canaanite villages, and routinely struck down thousands of Israelites for fussing).
If, as a conservative Christian, you can’t feel the weight of this narrative, you’ll find yourself repeatedly stepping in it.
But meanwhile the apostles of this liberalism are destroying the very culture that allows them to object to violence and coercion in the first place. They are like vandals looting and pillaging in the streets who demand that the hospital still admit them when they get hurt. What does “six feet” even mean? What does “Chinese” mean? What is a “woman” anyway? What does “hurt” mean? What does “broken” mean? What does “help” mean? Is there a liberal dictionary that can help us with which words we’re supposed to interpret literally and which ones are just poetic idioms?
The problem is that the catechism of liberalism teaches that language is fundamentally coercive. Language is violent. Words demand definitions, and definitions are like prison cells. You cannot define me!, the popular rebel voice cries. Definitions are straightjackets. Words are the worst fundamentalists of all. Tyrants. Dictators. I will define myself. I will be my own language. I will create my own reality, my own truth, my own identity, my own meaning.
But the end result of this is not freedom and happiness. The end result is that you cannot be understood. The end result of this is that you cannot understand anyone else. The end result is isolation and confusion. It turns out that meaning requires communication and community. There must be a common tongue, a reasonable amount of overlap in meaning and understanding. You cannot demand that you be allowed to define yourself, create your own meaning, your own identity and then complain that no one understands you. You cannot invent a new language and then demand that the world be fluent. There is no Babel fluency. Will you insist that this lack of understanding is willful ignorance? Are you being oppressed by their lack of understanding you? But what if they were to begin to understand you? What if they suddenly spoke your language? Now are you being hemmed in by their understanding?
And now it’s no surprise that at the very moment when most kindergarteners are learning their ABCs, in at least one charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota they’re being told that pronouns can mean whatever an individual wants them to mean. A school used to be a place where young people were taught about the way the world is, but because of the widespread fear of the violence of words and language and meaning, we are reaching the point where public schools are actually working overtime to teach children that the world is not. Is not what, you ask? We can’t say. Because if we did, we might be creeping back toward a definition and that leads to the crusades and slavery.
But here’s the thing: in a Babel moment there are really only two possibilities before us and perhaps some of each will actually happen. The two options are tyranny or dissolution. In the first Babel in history, the result was dissolution. The language of the people was confused and they scattered. Presumably in the cultural chaos that followed, basic needs of survival trumped the pride and hubris of identity politics and various tribes emerged. Some of this is already happening in the West. The vast differences in laws emerging in the American states reflect different languages, different tribes, and with celebrities and big business getting into the action, it doesn’t seem likely to dissipate.
However, the other possibility is tyranny. When language is lost, there is no discussion to be had. You can’t have peace talks, coalitions, debates, or even compromise. And all suggestions for round table discussions seem disingenuous and condescending. While I’m no tribal scholar, language and culture differences surely played a significant role in the massive injustices done to Native American tribes that inhabited the states of western America. There were some wicked Natives and there were some wicked white men. But when the meaning of words and treaties breakdown and fear takes over, there is only fight or flight. And in the end all you’re left with is “might makes right.” Some people call it survival of the fittest. There are a few voices within liberalism noting that liberal rhetoric isn’t exactly inviting conversation (see recent discussion here and here) and of course there are plenty of conservative blowhards as well, but do any of them have the courage to examine why language itself is breaking down? It’s not just condescension and smugness; there’s an even deeper aversion to meaning, truth, and words in general.
And this can go both ways. There are no winners when words cease to mean. This is a plague on conservatives and liberals and moderates. It’s a plague on our common humanity. You cannot love without understanding. You cannot love without truth. You cannot help without meaning. And I mean this very literally, like when you show up at the hospital and it turns out you cannot pick and choose your identity without significant consequences. Do a quick search on “Gender and Medicine,” and you’ll find plenty to keep you busy for a while. Turns out that life and death are still real. And unless you’re willing to jettison that reality, you’ll need to check one of those boxes on the medical form — you know the ones that have an “M” next to one and an “F” next to the other. Some medicines effect men differently. Some diseases are treated differently in women. If you want treatment, if you want to be cared for, you’ll need to speak this language. You’ll need to accept an identity that was given to you. This is not oppression. Oppression is what would happen if your life was cut short by a refusal to define your gender accurately. This is the kind of truth that sets you free. It’s no accident that most Christian missions around the world have immediately started schools and hospitals.
At the end of the day, every last human being on the planet must choose to have faith in someone or something. No man or woman lives apart from faith. The only question is where that faith is put. Not one of us knows all things, understands all things, or can begin to comprehend all things. We use our senses, our minds, our reason, and our experience, and then we trust those tools, the data they provide, and the sources of that data to give us enough information to extrapolate some sense of reality outward. The world seems to be like this, we all think in one way or another. And we make value judgments: it seems to work better this way and not so great that way. But there we are using words and language. There we are assuming meaning and reality, and based on these interpretations, we act and speak and communicate with others.
In all the old myths, Chaos is the Mother of all things. And Chaos is violent and coercive, but she gives birth to a succession of realities that somehow calm down enough to sustain life. Evolution is one more scientific attempt at explaining this story. But in these visions, we put our faith in the chaos, in the struggle, in the forces of nature, in the forces of good intentions (whatever they may be). But there is another story, another “origin myth” if you will, and it says, In the beginning was the Word…