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Appropriating Christian Language

Radio New Zealand (RNZ), if you are going to appropriate Christian language, please be professional enough to learn what the words actually mean.

Before proceeding, let’s just remind RNZ, you are fully funded by taxpayers – and 37% of us Kiwis call ourselves Christians. It makes sense – if you are going to use Christian lingo – for you to understand what you are saying. About half of Kiwis, who pay your salaries, are people of faith. Even many who do not commit to a faith want you to use the English language intelligently and respectfully.

Last week, Chris Luxon became the Leader of the Opposition. RNZ gushed with breathless enthusiasm about a new messiah having been anointed and needing to heal a schism in National’s broad church. RNZ described Luxon’s rhetoric as a “sermon as he shakes the tambourine“. His is a “baptism of fire“.

Chris Luxon’s brand of non-church-going Christian faith has been pored over by commentators. Neither Chris’s beliefs nor the tactlessness of the interviewer are the subject of this post.

What I have been particularly irked by is the repeated-in-many-articles question posed by RNZ’s Morning Report’s co-presenter Susie Ferguson​:

Do you believe in a literal translation of the Bible, of miracles, of speaking in tongues?

Susie Ferguson Morning Report RNZ (7:35)

Chris Luxon, also, doesn’t even attempt to respond to the unexpected question (a bad sign for times ahead) and, instead, continues on his clearly-workshopped speech.

Susie Ferguson​’s word salad should have been responded to by a discussion of different ways to translate Hebrew and Greek (and, in fact, any languages) literally: the advantages and disadvantages of formal and dynamic equivalence translations. Perhaps neither Susie nor Chris speak a second language (I noted that Chris began this interview by using the first person plural instead of the correct/appropriate second person singular).

One could have responded that the miracle stories – at least of the psychosomatic, placebo-effect type – are integral to the biblical stories. Rip them out of any historical analysis, and even the most atheist of historians has no coherent account left. And, as for speaking in tongues – is the question, “does this happen?” or is the question actually, “are these genuine languages, complete with grammar and coherent vocabulary?” Is the question about xenoglossy or about glossolalia (fabricated, meaningless speech)? Is Susie’s question itself simply meaningless speech?!

If someone asks me, “Do you believe God exists?” I will want to be clear what they mean by the question. Unless it is clear what is meant by the words, we will simply talk past each other, not communicating at all. Does ‘belief’ refer to something more than ‘conviction’? (Do you believe the world is round? Do you believe light can be modelled by both waves and particles?) Is ‘belief’, here, more akin to ‘commitment’? (Do you believe in the All Blacks? Do you believe in democracy?) By ‘God’, is the questioner asking about an invisible sky fairy who controls the weather? By ‘exist’, does this mean we can add God to other objects that exist and thereby increase the total number of objects by one?

Please, post-modern, mocking, agnostic, majority culture: take care when appropriating Christian language lest your speech degenerate to being little more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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7 thoughts on “Appropriating Christian Language”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Bosco. I have to say that I am rarely impressed by the questions of the Morning Report continuity announcers. They are not journalists, and frequently resort to ridicule when a response doesn’t suit . Add to that an increasing use of inappropriate or blasphemous language – just this morning, while discussing how to pronounce omicron, as in the virus, it was suggested that it follow the stress pattern and vowel pattern of oh my god. Even suggested that it was ‘God’s way of teaching us Greek.’ Thank you for your own remarks.

  2. My pet peeve is the misuse of the honorific The Reverend by so many journalists. They misuse it to identify a clergy person with such phrases as “He is the local church’s reverend” or “We spoke to one of the village’s two reverends.”

    They never misuse the honorific The Honorable by writing such cringe-worthy statements as “She was the local honorable” or “We spoke to one of the two honorables on the bench.”

    The Honorable is used in the US with respect to someone in an elected office or a judge. “Please welcome the President of the United States, the Honorable Joseph Biden.” “The court is now called to order, the Honorable Marsha T Citizen is presiding.”

    1. I’ll see your peeve, David, and raise you: I allude to Chris following the habit (here at least) of inability to use pronouns. The correct use of “myself” is now a lost cause. “You” as a plural (or even as a polite singular) is giving way to “yous”, “you guys”, and “we”. At shop counters, I’m regularly asked, “How are we paying for this today?” To which my usual response is, “Let’s go halves.” Blessings.

      1. I think ‘yous’ has developed because in English, unlike in many other languages, we use ‘you’ for both singular and plural second person, and somehow yearn for a way of saying you plural.

        1. Yes, Dorothy. “You” is already the plural 2nd person – as with other languages, we use it as the polite form for the singular. For the sake of egalitarianism, we have abandoned the informal, friendship 2nd person singular (“thee” etc). And we now think that “you” is the singular and hunt around for a new plural 🙂 Fascinatingly, English has no authority individual or group – there is no one to say, “this is incorrect”. Blessings.

  3. I like to listen to Mediawatch. There was discussion about the pronunciation of Luxon’s surname, with some pronouncing it Luxton.
    There was a clip of someone on a radio station reading out a text which said ” There is no ‘t’ in my name. Chris.”
    I interpreted this not as commenting on the surname, but a witty texter suggesting “There is no ‘t’ in my name. I’m not Christ.” In keeping with the context of questioning Luxon about his beliefs, and the National Party needing a Saviour.

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