How language transforms a Christian society into a secular society

How language transforms a Christian society into a secular society

Audrey English

The word spirituality is currently enjoying great popularity. Differing forms of it are offered in assorted courses in Catholic circles: aboriginal, creation, "body, mind and spirit", Buddhist - each intended to appeal to different needs.

The sources of these types of spirituality are varied ideological systems competing to take control of our minds and emotions. Unlike communism, which was recognisably opposed to Christianity, a common feature of these ideologies is their use of Christian terms, of references to God, to the Holy Spirit - traps for the uninformed, who are deluded into thinking they are being spiritually nourished instead of being deflected from the truth.

The proliferation of angel figures in New Age shops, the appeal of aboriginal legends, illustrate a need: the desire for God which is in the heart of every human being.

However, the failure to recognise the essential distinction between these and a true Catholic spirituality leads to a failure to recognise the distinction between the Creator and creation. The worship of nature or the worship of the self are offered either as a substitute or in conjunction with the worship of the one, true God.

Language is a powerful means of presenting an ideology. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley presents a pseudo-religion, in which many recognisably Christian terms and Christian forms of worship attempt to cater for the natural desire to transcend beyond the limitations of the self. In 1984 George Orwell speaks of the destruction of words. Oldspeak with "its useless shades of meaning" had to be to be eliminated. Missed is the psalmist who speaks of evil with its multiple facets: "O Lord ... blot out my transgressions ... wash me from my iniquity ... cleanse me from my sin."

Disobedience of the law, the state of wickedness, the act which separates from God are all blended in the vagueness of terminology, which refuses to make distinctions.

Huxley and Orwell realised that we were undergoing an ideological revolution which was to affect the whole of our civilisation. This revolution has succeeded in transforming a society predominantly Christian into a secular society where Christian values are continually being destroyed.

In daily life, in newspapers, on the screen we come across verbal and physical violence, sexual depravity and practices which are morally unacceptable. We tolerate these in the name of modern life, of art, of freedom.

We passively accept the term "partner" for husband or wife, thus levelling a sacred relationship down to the standard of any other union, whether legal, moral, natural or otherwise. We refer to homosexuals as "gays", creating the impression that their lifestyle is a happy one. Life- denying practices are given positive connotations as in "pro- choice" or "death with dignity".

Together with the inaccurate use of words is the indiscriminate use of religious language. What easier means of transforming a society which was predominantly Christian than by adopting traditionally Christian terminology and adapting it to new meanings?

Currently the language of religion is used as common coinage to describe sporting activities and indeed any other form of entertainment. In an age where the worship of the one, true God has lost its popularity, entertainment functions as a substitute offering a vaguely religious atmosphere, a false 'spirituality'.

In an article titled "Sports Mad", Barry Spurr notes that "the Clayton religion of sport now provides for the Australian community", "the SCG and MCG are regularly spoken of as shrines" and "the atmosphere at an empty Stadium Australia is cathedral silent." The explanatory text of an article indicates that the "coach ... inspires a sacramental sense of commitment in his ... team." The term "icon", which was restricted to a sacred image, now describes any cultural symbol.

Secular culture consistently and increasingly appropriates religious terms and succeeds in stripping them of their supernatural element.

Ironically, Catholic culture tends to avoid the use of specifically Catholic language. In a mistaken idea of reaching children at their own level, religious education often reduces religious concepts to the extent that the supernatural becomes nonexistent. For example, saints are shown as heroes we admire, but their intercessory power or their patronage are usually ignored. The word "miracle", with its implication of the divinity of Christ, is eliminated in texts, which present Jesus merely as a healing person.

Christian culture

We need to resist the erosion of our Christian culture. When religious words are used indiscriminately and universally, their true meaning disappears and we are robbed of terms to describe what is specifically sacred. When the profane is elevated to the status of the spiritual, the sacred is devalued and replaced by secular humanism.

To restore the language of the sacred requires consistent effort. This means avoiding adopting current trends and refusing to give positive connotations to acts that are evil. Words which describe virtues: prudence, humility, fortitude, abstract nouns, such as discernment, self- knowledge, enrich our vocabulary. If they are frequently used, both word and concept will become familiar.

Catholic language must be reinstated. Words like Our Lord, blessings, grace, offering up, prayer, sacrifice, ought to be in current daily use. In this way those who have never known our Christian heritage might be inspired to find out more and those who have forgotten it may remember.

Audrey English is a Sydney-based mother and grandmother, who was for many years a regular columnist for 'The Catholic Weekly.' She formerly taught at Anglican girls' schools and has written extensively, including a number of texts and an ACT pamphlet, 'Should We Teach Doctrine?'

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