Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

10/4/2010 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Christian moral vocabulary properly belongs to Christians, and we should not cede the vocabulary to the thieves.


What happens then when people leave Christianity and want to promote ideas about morality that violate the moral tradition? They have only one option: Hijack the language. They use the terms of traditional Christianity but mean very different things by them. Words don't mean what they used to mean. Language gets inverted, turned upside down. Do this long and loud enough, and in less than a generation the new meanings take hold. When hijackers use the language of the moral tradition, they implicitly claim to stand inside that tradition. It's only a pose of course, but their pose fools many people.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today.

Highlights

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/4/2010 (4 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: orthodox, priest, moral tradition, morality, liberals, heresy, abortion, catholic


NAPLES, FL (Catholic Online) - In a recent Catholic Online article (Social Justice: Take Back the Term from the Thieves and Build a New Catholic Action) Deacon Keith Fournier writes about a question he was asked at a recent conference:

"(T)he host of the conference made a suggestion that we get rid of the term "Social Justice" because it is now used by 'the left". He asked for my thoughts. I strongly disagreed. I insisted that we take back the phrase from those who have stolen it, either on the "the right" or "the left". He then suggested the Church does not use the phrase "Social Justice". An attendee did a "google" search of the Vatican documents on his handheld device and reported it was used thousands of times in the magisterial teaching of the Church."

Fournier is right on two counts: The Christian moral vocabulary properly belongs to Christians, and we should not cede the vocabulary to the thieves.

The problem is not limited to the term "Social Justice" alone. Many of the familiar terms drawn from the moral tradition are used in ways that are different today than in generations past. Nothing is sacrosanct. For example, as recently as a decade ago the idea that same-sex partners who "loved" each other had a "right" to "marriage" was inconceivable.  Today many people shrug it off.  To many, the "redefinition" of marriage seems self-evidently true and morally proper.

But how did it get this way? Why is it that these terms, which have been part of the moral tradition for centuries, no longer mean what they used to mean? What can Christians do about it?

The answer lies in the slow drift of Western culture away from God. It used to be that when people spoke about morality, God was automatically part of the mix. When we had to decide what was wrong and what was right, we appealed to higher laws - laws that almost everyone understood came from God - in our sacred texts, teachings, and tradition. When we had to decide the proper way to treat our neighbor, we looked into what those texts, teachings, and tradition said. We don't do that anymore.

But the drift comes with a cost. "When men quit believing in God," the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, "they believe in anything." No man can live without God. If he tries to live without God, then he will end up making himself a god. This is as true as the sky is blue. It will never change.

This is true because man was created to live with and in God. Man cannot live without God just as a child cannot be born without a parent. Out of all the religious texts in the world, only the Christian Scriptures defines this coherently: Man is created out of the dust of the ground (man comes from created matter), but unlike the rest of creation he also has the capacity to partake of God Himself ("And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.").

God is the proper object of the deep longing in the soul of man for communion and connection to something higher, to a wellspring that gives life. The longing is a thirst that man himself cannot slake.

When God is forgotten however, that object becomes whatever man fancies it to be. It can be something debilitating like an addiction, or grand in design and promise like a political ideology. Nevertheless, whatever a person chooses, all are substitutes impregnated with false promises and lies that can only lead ultimately to collapse.

When we look back at the last century and see the rank foolishness of belief in political ideologies like Marxism or Facism and their brutal and murderous legacies for example, we see how powerful Dostoevsky's prophesy was. When we look around today at the epidemic of teenage STDs, or the poverty of single mothers, or the unbridled greed of some on Wall Street, we see that the prophecy applies to all walks of life. Forgetting God leads to the catastrophic breakdown of both society and individual people.

When man unties his morality from God - his sense about who God created him to be starts to dim. How he understands his purpose in life, what gives life its enduring meaning, how he should treat the neighbor, how his community should organize and govern itself - all the constituents that give human life its purpose, meaning, and order get confused. That's why, for example, Marxists and Nazis believed they were serving a greater good, why pro-abortion activists think abortion is social progress, or why people believe same-sex "marriage" doesn't really differ from heterosexual monogamy.

Yet, we still live in a civilization that was nurtured and shaped by Christianity. The moral language of Western civilization is uniquely Christian, not Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, pagan, or any other religion that exists on the earth. The moral vocabulary and concepts of the Christian West come directly from God through the writings of the prophets, the apostles, the Fathers, the Saints - men and women who heard the Gospel and lived in Christ and thereby imparted wisdom to us about who we were created to be and how we should live. We call this the moral tradition.

And here's the rub. We live in a civilization that uses the vocabulary of the moral tradition on the one hand, but forgets who gave it to us on the other hand.

What happens then when people leave Christianity and want to promote ideas about morality that violate the moral tradition? They have only one option: Hijack the language. They use the terms of traditional Christianity but mean very different things by them. Words don't mean what they used to mean. Language gets inverted, turned upside down. Do this long and loud enough, and in less than a generation the new meanings take hold.

For example, take the word "love." In our day any definition of the word never moves beyond the sense that love is a subjective feeling. This way of thinking about love has concrete ramifications. How one feels about the neighbor is more important than what one does for him. In fact, if the good feeling is not there, more often than not the responsibility we have for that person loses its moral force. We walk away from commitments thinking that if we don't feel committed, it is not important to fulfill them.

Of course love never meant that, at least in the generations leading up to ours. But if this adulteration of meaning is allowed to stand, the next generation will believe that today's understanding is the one that stood for all time. They won't know that the past can show them a way out of their confusion because they will read the past in the darkness of the present. When this happens, the moral tradition becomes a prisoner of the present, rather than its enlightener.

This point is not lost on the hijackers. One reason that ideological thieves hijack the moral vocabulary instead of developing one of their own is that it lends an air of authority to their ideas. When hijackers use the language of the moral tradition, they implicitly claim to stand inside that tradition. It's only a pose of course, but their pose fools many people.

This is what religious liberals like Jim Wallis or leaders of the National Council of Churches do. They are not really interested in traditional understandings of social justice or the common good. Instead, they have taken the secular reductions of those terms but present their ideas as no different from what Christian have always believed. People who don't know the moral tradition join with those who don't really understand the politics behind the hijacker's positions (and many people don't know either), and are led into deep moral confusion.

We have to fight back. We should not, like Dn. Fournier's questioner, cede the battle as lost. Christians can't sit idle and allow the secular or religious left to hijack this language. It is not theirs. And no, it is not tolerant, compassionate, or open-minded to let them think that they have a right to it.

-----

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2015
Universal:
That political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity.
Evangelization: That, amid social inequalities, Latin American Christians may bear witness to love for the poor and contribute to a more fraternal society.



Comments


More Living Faith

'Let Jesus satisfy your hunger for God': Pope Francis encourages people to make offers to God Watch

Image of Pope Francis reflected on the Sunday reading from the Gospel of John in which a vast crowd follows Jesus, but lacks enough food to eat.

By CNA/EWTN News

Jesus Christ's miraculous multiplication of the loaves shows that he offers "fullness of life for hungry man," Pope Francis said Sunday. He encouraged everyone to offer what little they have to God so that God can multiply their gifts and good deeds. Vatican ... continue reading


What to wear to church: What's more important, physical or inner beauty? Watch

Image of

By Hannah Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Wearing your best outfit or putting on a little makeup in preparation for Church isn't too looked down upon. A leading Christian writer shared with Crosswalk.com what she has realized over years of church participation. Although she loves beautiful clothes and make-up, ... continue reading


'Nothing can separate me from the love of God': The first American Ebola patient shares his profound realization on deathbed Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

He was the first American who contracted the deadly Ebola virus - fearful and sick, Dr. Kent Brantly came to realize something important for Christians and their relationship with God. Amid the pain and moments of uncertainty, from being diagnosed positive with ... continue reading


J. Matt Barber: The Meaning of Life

Image of Matt Barber is founder and editor-in chief of BarbWire.com. He is an author, columnist, cultural analyst and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law.

By J. Matt Barber

So this was rock bottom. The day, which yet again wore into night with fast food and old Bonanza reruns, would end like all the rest. Where were my car keys? As I searched in preparation for another trip to the liquor store, I made my way to my bedroom and opened ... continue reading


'There is no hope, no life, no hope for an end': 'Donor fatigue' setting in among those helping Christians in Middle East fleeing ISIS Watch

Image of Refugees now realize that they will be unable to return to their homes in Iraq or Syria.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With no end in sight, "donor fatigue" is setting in for those trying to help Middle Eastern Christians fleeing ISIS. There appears to be no solutions, only increasing refugees and more need. The refugees' situation is only getting worse. Refugees now realize ... continue reading


Giant cross at veteran memorial to stay standing with game-changing agreement made Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Legal battle over the issue of a giant cross standing over a veterans' memorial has been a long and tedious fight, but an agreement may now put it all to rest, keeping the monument on the land. Atheists and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed legal ... continue reading


A MIRACLE? Virgin Mary painting caught on tape moving lips along with the Lord's Prayer (VIDEO) Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The lips on a painted image of the Virgin Mary, on display at the St. Charbels Church in New South Wales, Australia, were reportedly witnessed moving along with the reading of the Lord's Prayer. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - The video featuring the Virgin ... continue reading


Many accuse Pope Francis of socialist, even communist leanings - is he? Watch

Image of The gift of a

By CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis' recent trip to Latin America has rekindled questions about whether he endorses socialism, or even communism. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - The gift of a "communist crucifix" from Bolivia's president Evo Morales and uncertainty over the Pope's response ... continue reading


Schedule released for Pope Francis' Jubilee of Mercy Watch

Image of Twelve prominent events, each with the participation of Pope Francis, have been scheduled in Rome for the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy.

By CNA/EWTN News

Twelve prominent events, each with the participation of Pope Francis, have been scheduled in Rome for the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, and CNA was able to glance at details of their programs. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - The twelve big events of the Jubilee of ... continue reading


Bible verse discovered on ancient Hebrew scroll unearthed near the Dead Sea Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A burned scroll, speculated to have existed for 1,500 years, was unearthed in 1970 near the Dead Sea, but scientists only now have deciphered the content of the delicate ancient parchment. They were shocked to find the most ancient Hebrew scroll contained a part of the ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Gospel, John 11:19-27
19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 29th, 2015 Image

St. Martha
July 29: "Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus." This unique ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter