Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Theological Leverage," "Relational Mobility," and the Mocking of God


Once again Carl Trueman makes me laugh, think, and then helpfully brings me low. His latest piece at Ref21 addresses the ways in which we tend to cover or soften our sin by creative uses of language. However, a lie is still a lie. Adultery is still adultery. And God is still not mocked.

Words are interesting and powerful, no-one denies that. And one of the ways in which this is made clear is the way in which there are so many struggles about words and how they are used. Indeed, `political correctness' is, if nothing else, a movement about language: the disabled become `differently abled'; various racial epithets are outlawed, if not by the state then at least by the bounds of acceptable taste and convention; and, indeed, in striking a blow for that despised group, the middle aged male bald guy, I might suggest we replace `baldy', `chrome dome', `Mekon' (hey, that last one will test your knowledge of post-War British pop culture) and `helmet head' with `follicly challenged', `alternatively thatched', and the increasingly popular self-designation `Mature, intelligent male with youthful outlook and GSOH seeks lady (20-25) for friendship and perhaps more.'

There is, however, another aspect to the changing of language which is driven not so much by a desire to avoid hurting others but rather by the attempt to hide the full horror of certain situations. We are all aware of how this can be done. Sometimes it is done with reference to things that are not necessarily evil but which are not exactly good news: to close a loss-making factory might be `to rationalize resources;' to put a sick dog out of its misery might be `to put it to sleep.' Other times it can be clearly utilized to blunt or even invert the moral dimensions of an action: to argue for abortion is to be `pro-choice;' to kill off the elderly and the infirm is `euthanasia' or `mercy killing' or `death with dignity' (however one dies, I suspect the departure of life from a body can never be dignified, just more or less awful).

Well, so much for the way in which language has been used in general public discourse; what is really worrying is that some of this spin is now firmly established within the church. Two recent examples come to mind. First, there is the notorious case of Ergun Caner, of Liberty Theological Seminary. Caner allegedly invented whole swathes of his past in order to enhance his public profile and career. Most normal people would regard a cock and bull story concocted about growing up in Turkey and having a background in jihadi culture, if not actually true, then as being a pack of lies put forward for personal gain by playing on American evangelical fears about Islam. Not so, according to Elmer Towns, Dean of Liberty's School of Religion in a statement to Christianity Today: if Caner's story is not true, then it is just a case of the kind of `theological leverage' in which the school typically allows its faculty to engage.

So telling lies has now become theological leverage, and is acceptable once one has reached a certain rank in the Christian firmament? "What?" you say "Next thing you know, they'll be inventing new and trendy terms for adultery which blunt the moral force of that sin too, presumably not an ethical matter either, providing one is high enough up the evangelical hierarchy to be accountable to no-one." Well, funny you should mention that...... recently, I happened to come across someone talking about a new sin with which I was not familiar, the sin of relational mobility. Hmmm, I thought, sounds interesting. I wonder if that's what it's called when I roll over at night and accidentally whack my wife on the head with a flailing arm as I fight off some imagined sea serpent that has invaded my dreams? Or perhaps it's a cute way of referring to the typical husband's capacity for vanishing off the face of the earth when his wife wants to go the shops to choose some new wallpaper?

Wrong on both counts. As I investigated the conversation, the crime in question seemed to be nothing less than divorce based on adultery; to be blunt, the shattering of a marriage by illicit and explicit genital intercourse between two people outside the bonds of the marriage vows that had been taken. That's what the sin of 'relational mobility' apparently is. Nice way of putting it, nest'ce pas?

Read the entire article HERE.

1 comment:

Jerry F said...

Brilliant, and funny. Sad as well.