Commentary

Watch Your Language!

According to tradition, Saint Polycarp was made Bishop of Smyrna by the Apostle John, where he dutifully served the Lord until his demise at the hands of the Romans, as is recorded in The Martyrdom of Polycarp. The text tells us that as he was tried, and even as he was being led to the place of his execution, his captors gave him a chance of forestalling his death—all that he needed to do, was to burn a bit of incense, and speak to them the words kurios kaisar…. ‘Caesar is Lord’(Lake 312). That’s all that had to be done! It would be so easy, and the Romans knew this. No doubt it was with exasperation in their voices that they urged him “what harm is there in saying the words?” (Shrout). To Polycarp, the answer was clear: Caesar was not Lord, Jesus Christ was Lord. Polycarp died affirming Kurios Christus.

Now the question is, couldn’t our friend Polycarp just have said the words and carried on with life?

I think the answer is obvious. While it may be easy to treat words as petty things that lack eternal significance, God speaks otherwise: our words and our hearts are wholly intertwined (Mat. 15:18). Could I read aloud kurios kaisar and not render myself apostate? Sure. But I do not live under Roman rule, and neither am I on trial before Roman magistrates. While it would be apostasy for Polycarp, kurios kaisar is an anecdote for myself. Thus, language is dangerous… but it depends on its setting. Polycarp could not affirm Caesar as Lord. Christians in the Middle East refrain from uttering the Islamic Shahada. Richard Wurmbrand in Eastern Europe refused to affirm that Stalinism was compatible with Christianity. In each instance, words which do not necessarily hold fiat power were made significant because of the pressure to say them in certain contexts.

It is interesting, however, that we conservatives at times seem to be less concerned with our words than are our pals to the Left. Some of the greatest and most influential linguistic thinkers are themselves leftists: think Chomsky, Derrida, Saussure. Furthermore, the scrutiny of words helps to shape other (left-dominated) academic fields, such as sociology, literary criticism, and legal studies (Shermer). Not everyone needs to be a linguist, but I do advocate that we all learn to notice the language we are receiving and reproducing. Think of the following word examples:


· Race and Racialism – Historically synonymous (“Racialism, N.”), re-defined in modern usage (Schuck)
· Sex and Gender – Historically synonymous (“Gender, N.”), re-defined in wake of sexual revolution (World Health Organization)
· Collateral Damage – First used in the 1960’s, applying financial language to describe civilian deaths (Schelling)
· Ethnic Cleansing – euphemistic alternative to ‘mass-murder’ or ‘genocide’ (Saffire)


Why have these words come about, and why have some of them been suddenly altered? Have you thought of why the World Health Organization adopted an unusual re-definition of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ from the American Journal of Psychology? Or is there a reason our government would prefer us to see their killing of civilians as ‘collateral damage’?

And why should you care? The fact of the matter is, you are being lied to. Governments and intellectuals can and do change their language with the expectation that you will do the same. And while Polycarp understood the goal of the Romans, we do not realize when we reproduce our society’s more subtle lies. So I urge you to follow the words of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn—”Let the lie come into the world, even let it triumph. But not through me.” No, it is not a sin to distinguish sex from gender. Just as it is not a sin to call the death of a city ‘collateral damage,’ or to call infanticide ‘abortion’ (or even further removed, ‘termination of a pregnancy’). But it is wrong to know what you believe and to speak otherwise. If we oppose abortion, call it infanticide. If we oppose the redefinition of what it means for God to have created Man and Women, speak as if you do. If you know that it is never right to discriminate against others, call it racism. Do not join in culture’s lies.


Works Cited:

English Standard Version Bible. Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Bibles, 2001.

“Gender, N.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/77468?rskey=vSfiX8&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid. Accessed 4 Dec. 2021.

Lake, Kirsopp. The Apostolic Fathers. Vol. II, London, W. Heinemann ; New York, 1912, p. 312, earlychurchtexts.com/main/polycarp/01_martyrdom_of_polycarp_01.shtml.

“Racialism, N.” http://Www.oed.com, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/157084?redirectedFrom=racialism#eid. Accessed 4 Dec. 2021.
Saffire, William. “Ethnic Cleansing,.” New York Times, 4 Mar. 1993, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/14/magazine/on-language-ethnic-cleansing.html.

Schelling, T. C. “Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage.” Operations Research, vol. 9, no. 3, June 1961, pp. 363–370,

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