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Change the Definition and You Change the Principle

Words are beautiful things, as Proverbs 25:11 says: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”. Psalms says they 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 either unethical or unwitting sometimes purposefully change definitions to distort our beliefs. Some think our Constitution should “evolve”, and use our language to assist in the evolution. Words such as “equality”, “discrimination” and “democracy” are quietly and skillfully redefined over time. Few see that these redefinitions undermine basic moral principles.

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 that elects representatives to create laws and operates by a ratified, written constitution. Some, like Alexis de Toqueville’s “Democracy in America”, misapplied 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, 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 and religious leaders to apply our personal standards to everyday living has been repulsed. Some of those actions now qualify as discrimination and are, increasingly, in violation 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 applies selectively to those whose relationships are both politically correct and popular. In this case, the definition has been changed by narrowing its scope dramatically. Such is the case with modern “equality”. The term 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 eliminated and whose standards will be rejected. “Equality” is available only to a favored few, and government, as the enforcer of redefined equality, whose responsibility it has previously been to prevent injustice, now becomes the agent of injustice.

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose political ideas encouraged the bloodbath of the French Revolution, declared men’s rights to 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 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, our welfare rolls grow.

Other vocabulary changes affect our values and perceptions. We refer to worthless pieces of paper as “money”—that which used to have value because it could be exchanged for precious metals. Our paper money is no longer backed by anything of intrinsic worth nor can it be exchanged; it is sustained only by our perception of its value. 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, explaining them accurately would help recipients make better choices.

There are many other examples. Words and concepts 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.

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