Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

10/4/2010 (5 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 (5 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'


Copyright 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for SEPTEMBER 2016
Universal:
Centrality of the Human Person: That each may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.
Evangelization: Mission to Evangelize: That by participating in the Sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize.



Comments


More Living Faith

Celebrate St. Teresa of Avila's feast day with special items Watch

Image of St. Teresa of Avila's feast day is October 15.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

St. Teresa of Avila's feast day will be celebrated October 15, so be sure to get your prayer cards, medals, pendants and more. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of Spanish Catholic writers and those who suffer headaches.She was ... continue reading


The homeless embark on pilgrimage to meet Pope Francis Watch

Image of Pope Francis always has time for the poor, the broken and the homeless.

By Hannah Brockhaus (CNA/EWTN News)

Tanya Cangelosi never imagined that she would one day be bringing homeless people on pilgrimages to Rome. And Shyla Montoya never thought that she would someday go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Vatican City, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) - But earlier this month, that is exactly ... continue reading


Buy a car used by Pope Francis! Online auction for charity Watch

Image of Who will win the auction?

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

How much would YOU pay for a vehicle used to transport the Holy Father? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When Pope Francis paid Kraków a visit for World Youth Day, he was driven around in Volkswagen Golf cars - each of which is on the auction block.The three ... continue reading


Martyred priest declared 'Blessed' by Pope Francis Watch

Image of Father Engelmar Unzeitig.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Father Engelmar Unzeitig was interred in the Nazi concentration camp Dachau. He was recognized as a martyr and, on Sunday, was beatified by Pope Francis. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Fr. Unzeitig was arrested by Nazis in 1941, at only 30-years-old. He had only ... continue reading


What is an Archangel? Watch

Image of The three Archangels mentioned in the Bible are Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

What is an archangel? This is a common question. Simply put, an archangel is an angel of high rank. Three are mentioned in the Bible. Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael. The Archangels are offices of high stature in heaven. These three angels mentioned in ... continue reading


Pope Francis names Texas bishop-elect Watch

Image of Pope Francis has selected Msgr. Robert Milner Coerver the bishop-elect for Lubbock, Texas.

By Elise Harris (CNA/EWTN News)

The Vatican announced Tuesday that Pope Francis has named Msgr. Robert Milner Coerver, a parish priest from the Diocese of Dallas, as the new bishop-elect for Lubbock, Texas. Vatican City, Italy (CNA/EWTN News) - Msgr. Coerver, pastor of St. Rita Parish in Dallas, will ... continue reading


'The church stays close to you' - Pope Francis welcomes victims of Nice attack at Vatican Watch

Image of Pope Francis welcomed victims of Nice attack.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Pope Francis welcomed relatives of the victims of the Nice, France attack on Saturday to encourage them to resist the need to "respond to hatred with hatred and to violence with violence." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Catholic Herald, Pope ... continue reading


'The lack of exorcists is a real emergency' - More people dabbling in black magic and other pagan arts Watch

Image of Exorcists are busy fighting the devil while more people practice black magic.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

There has been a rise in pagan activity among the masses, leading to a shortage of exorcists in the United States and Italy. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Experts from the Catholic Church in Italy and the United States revealed a desperate spiritual fight as more ... continue reading


'Dear President Obama:' 6-year-old's letter inspires the nation Watch

Image of We can all learn from Alex.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A six-year-old boy named Alex witnessed the heartbreaking images of children in Aleppo, Syria. One picture in particular caught his eye and, unable to stand by and do nothing, penned a letter to US President Barack Obama. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The image ... continue reading


Celebrate St. Francis of Assisi with his top 10 quotes Watch

Image of How will St. Francis of Assisi challenge you today?

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Today is St. Francis of Assisi's birthday! LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Francis Assisi was born Giovanni de Bernardino to a wealthy merchant in Assisi, Umbria, in 1181.As a youth, St. Francis lived a lavish life of wealth, feasts and joy.[media ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
1 Job spoke next. He said:2 Indeed, I know it is as you say: ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
10 Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise up to praise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, 'I ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 28th, 2016 Image

St. Lorenzo Ruiz
September 28: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz was born around the year 1600 ... Read More