Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Linguistic Minority (or "What is Love?")

Wittgenstein's insight into how language works is that you cannot separate the words, sentences, sounds, etc., which we think of as the language from the way of life, the habits and such, in which it is used to communicate. He therefore spoke of "language games" to refer to that complex whole which includes both the sound production by human beings, and the following actions taken by humans in response.

To change the way of life, then, must often change the language in some way. Conclusion: being the moral minority means being the linguistic minority in certain ways. Further, to maintain the same language as the surrounding culture will, at least, exert enormous pressure to maintain the same way of life as the surrounding culture.

Now, it is obvious that we do not quite speak a foreign language in the common sense of "language." I grant that. I use language above because it is the way Wittgenstein presents it. However, it will fit our sensibilities--our language, as it were--better if I now switch to "dialect." We speak a different dialect, and it is different in important and life altering ways. Wittgenstein seems to think that language must be fine as it is, and that there is no moral component to our linguistic practices (PI 98, but particularly the received linguistic relativist Wittgenstein), but you can only grant that if you think there are no wrong ways of life. If there are wrong ways of life, those ways of life will have dialects, and those dialects will only make sense from within those ways of life consistent with those wrong ways of life from which the dialect originally arose. The dialect, then, will present issues, traps in our thinking about ethical and social issues. This term has issues to--this "Christian dialect" is translatable between languages and, I want to say, is actually the redemption of those languages--but it is the best I have so far.

This is not merely theoretical. The common culture uses the term "marriage" in such a way that to see the Christian dialect as using the same word, and not a similar word in a different dialect, presents issues. If we do not distinguish between the meanings of our words in our dialect and the meaning of the broader culture's identically sounding words in their dialect(s), we will be unable to coherently present our way of life.

If state-sanctioned "marriage" and traditional Christian "marriage" are the same word, then when Christ almost entirely bans divorce, divorce is banned for both, and we end up effectively forced to endorse state-sanctioned marriage as proper. The same goes for an enormous number of other terms, but chiefly "love". Biblically speaking, Christian love must be a different concept than secular love. 1 John 4:12 "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." In this passage, particularly in context, love is defined by pointing to the love of God in Christ's sacrifice for us, and is restricted to believers. If you love, then you are a believer, and, so, if you are not a believer, you are not able to love. However we flesh out the concept further, these parameters require us to hold that what happens when a Christian loves is very different from what happens when a non-Christian "loves."

It is not surprising that the point where it is most obvious that Christians must be speaking a different dialect. The ethics of Christianity is centered around love: the greatest commandment is to love God and is followed by the command to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27). For the Christian ethic to be distinctive, then, the Christian understanding of love must be distinctive, and for us to understand the Christian ethic, we must understand Christian love.

Christian love revolves around and is defined by the love of God in Christ's saving work on the cross. This is why we cannot love apart from being Christians: we cannot love apart from the salvation from hate which Christ works by killing our old, hateful selves, and we do not know what love is, really, until we have seen it and received it in Christ. Throughout the New Testament, the concept of love is defined by pointing to the cross. The cross redefines love, and thus defines the Christian ethic. The Christian ethic, then, is inseparable and unattainable apart from the Christian message, the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith.

To say that we should just love one another, then, is to say nothing until we have defined the concept of love. We must not toss the word around carelessly, but define it by reference to Christ, as in John 15:13 and 1 John 4:10, and Romans 5:6-8 and 1 Peter 2:21 hint at the same way of thinking. To think of love as a simple concept is contrary to Scripture, for if it were simple, then, since the Law is summed up by two love commands, why is the law so long? Why not leave it at such a simple concept? And even in the New Testament we have numerous commands which are likewise summed up by the same two commands. An immense amount of space in the Bible is dedicated to fleshing out this concept, if indeed Jesus is right that these two commandments sum up the law and the prophets. We cannot, then, assume that we know what it is to love, and we will come into conflict with other groups in our use of many terms, not least this one, and need to be aware of the differences in meaning which underlie similarities of speech.

1 comment:

  1. I am reading nag Vern Poythress on language. I wonder if he will get around to these ideas.