Words are beautiful things, as Proverbs 25:11 says: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”. Psalms says words are also powerful: products of the tongue that “devise mischief’ as a “sharp sword”.
Words and their meanings can change, affecting our values and politics. Those who are unethical or unwitting sometimes purposefully change definitions to sway our beliefs. Some think, for instance, that our Constitution should “evolve”, and they use our language to assist in the evolution. Words such as “equality”, “discrimination” and “democracy” are quietly and purposefully redefined over time. Few realize that these redefinitions sometimes change our basic beliefs.
For example, America is often called a democracy, which we are not. A democracy is like a locomotive running full steam toward disaster. America is a constitutional republic—a republic because we elect representatives to create laws, and constitutional because we have a written, ratified constitution. Some, like Alexis de Toqueville’s “Democracy in America”, misapply the term democracy. The Founders did not. Benjamin Franklin said the government he helped create was a republic, “…if you can keep it.” A democracy—all citizens voting on every law—is unwieldy, unwise and tiresome to maintain. It is prone to impulse and mob rule, and susceptible to being “bought” by politicians.
When leaders and the people believe they are a democracy, they act like one. They sidestep elected representatives, neglect the republic’s duties in order to focus on rights, and sell their freedoms for “goodies”. The locomotive of democracy always runs over the historical cliff.
Another distortion in our language deals with the word “discrimination”. The word used to mean to divide, discern or distinguish. (Webster’s 1942 Collegiate Dictionary, 5th edition). Today it means that some beliefs and business practices which are based on religious or personal ethics are hateful. The age old admonition of philosophers, preachers and prophets to apply our personal standards to everyday living has been razed. Some of those actions now qualify as discrimination and are, increasingly, violations of the law.
The word “equality” has also been redefined. No where is this more obvious than the transformation of equality in the marriage arena. Equality is referenced in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. This is one of America’s core values.
The equality referenced in 1776 applied to all citizens of the existing thirteen colonies that participated in the declaration. Today the term is applied selectively; changed by narrowing its scope dramatically. Equality does not apply to the children who will be denied either a father or a mother under redefined marriage, or to those in the culture whose definitions of gender will be erased and whose standards will be criminalized. “Equality” is available only to a favored few. Government, whose responsibility it has previously been to prevent injustice, now enforces redefined equality to become the agent of injustice.
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose political ideas encouraged the bloodbath of the French Revolution, declared that the concept of rights required that all men be equal in every way. John Adams wrote from France about Rousseau’s philosophy: “That all men are born to equal (inalienable) rights is true . . . But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud . . . as ever was practiced.”. The equality of the Constitution refers to the equality of all generations as they stand before God, before the law and in the courts, and in the justice received.
Another misuse of vocabulary is explained by author Anthony Daniel in his address “The Worldview that Makes the Underclass” at Hillsdale College in May 2014. He explains the growing welfare class as well as vocabulary changes that have altered our values. He says, “A small change in locution (manner of speech) illustrates a change in the character and conceptions of a people. …those who received state (welfare) benefits (in past) would say, ‘I receive my check on Friday.’ Now people who receive such benefits say, ‘I get paid on Friday.’…implying that they are being paid to continue to exist; existence itself being their work.” As a result of this changed perception, people increasingly feel entitled to receive welfare and the welfare state grows.
There are hundreds of examples of changed vocabulary that affect our values and perceptions. We refer to worthless pieces of paper as “money”—that which used to have merit because it could be exchanged for something of worth. Our paper money is no longer backed by anything of intrinsic value nor can it be exchanged; it is sustained only by our perception of its worth. We refer to many medical procedures, such as screenings for diseases, as “disease prevention”, when, in fact, the procedures do nothing to prevent disease. That would require lifestyle choices that encourage health. The tests are, instead, early detection procedures, not preventive procedures. The difference is substantial. While both have value, defining them accurately would help recipients make better choices.
Words and the concepts they represent form the foundation of our lives. How can anyone be sure of what he believes when the words that describe his beliefs shift like sand beneath his feet? We need clarity, not confusion, for our values and our words.