The insidiousness of redefinition…

The idea of how modern society has chosen to redefine words came up in conversation recently. Perhaps it is the natural way of things, or perhaps it is the influence of the postmodern movement of the late 20th century. But regardless, its amazing what such redefinitions have done for our society. Take for example, the term tolerance.

The 1828 edition of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defines tolerance as:

TOL’ERANCE, n. [L. tolerantia, from tolero, to bear.] The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring.

Whereas Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary defines tolerance as:

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.
3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.
5. Medicine/Medical, Immunology.

a. the power of enduring or resisting the action of a drug, poison, etc.: a tolerance to antibiotics.
b. the lack of or low levels of immune response to transplanted tissue or other foreign substance that is normally immunogenic.

6. Machinery.

a. the permissible range of variation in a dimension of an object. Compare allowance (def. 8).
b. the permissible variation of an object or objects in some characteristic such as hardness, weight, or quantity.

7. Also called allowance. Coining. a permissible deviation in the fineness and weight of coin, owing to the difficulty of securing exact conformity to the standard prescribed by law.

Notice that enduring something is now “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude….” What used to be putting up with something or someone has become having a fair, objective and permissive attitude.

This redefinition is continuing around us. In all avenues. Femininity used to be desirable in women, and masculinity in men. Now, these things are bad.

You are probably asking yourself why I am writing this blog entry. What’s the deal with worrying about redefinition of terms? Who cares? It is not just terms that are redefined. So are the very foundations of our nation, our society, and our religion.

The fact is, the postmodern world has attempted to redefine many things, including what is right and wrong, good and bad, evil and not. We must recognize that when God’s word says something is good, then it is. When God’s word says something is bad, then it is. Our feelings do not change what God has says or whether it applies to us.

The world would say that it is important for a woman to look a certain way, sexy, “attractive”, etc. But what does God’s word say?

Scripture tells us in 1 Peter 3:3-4,

3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

What is important – what the world says, what your desires are, or what God says? God says that what is on the inside of a person is much more important than what is on the outside.

The world would have you think that you need to stand up for yourself – to your boss, your government, etc. God’s word says in 1 Peter 2:13-17,

13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”

What is more important – what the world says, what your desires are, or what God says?

The world says that if you are not happy with your spouse, then get a divorce. God says in Matthew 19:4-6,

4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”‘

What is more important – what the world says, what your desires are, or what God says?

Do not let yourself get caught up with what the world says is good or bad – these are men’s philosophies that we are warned about in the Bible. Colossians 2:8 tells us,

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ

I submit that what God says is more important. It does not matter how we feel. We must live as God has said to live, and not as the world would say we should.


17 Responses

  1. I attended the SBC convention years ago, in NO, and heard a minister preach about the changing understanding of tolerance, and how it had changed dramatically. On the way home, his words came to life as I heard a certain Presidential Candidate (96) ‘tolerate’ abortion. He lost.

    Excellent post, WB

  2. People are “tolerant” of those who agree with their position or who disagree in “acceptable” ways. But the meaning of the word continues to change. In the same way, our accepting of what God has written has changed. It changes because people dont like what God has said, so they find ways of ignoring the original meaning.

    This post started as a reaction to the term feminist, but it went somewhere else entirely. :)


  3. Very good wb, the postmodern culture is all about “change”. They (it) are always re-defining everything!
    Fr. R.

  4. wb,
    One thing too if you note, the postmodern church wants to re-align and adjust the Word of God constantly. They do this with so-called translations like the Message, or so-called Study Bibles that are, really specialty bibles popular to the needs and desire of the culture and popular ideas, etc. It is sadly oten just religion and also business and money. Indeed postmodern is very broad.
    Fr. R.

    • Fr. Robert,

      Postmodernity reaches all areas of culture. And many are unable to see.

      What also surprises me is the inability to think logically. Many times people are able to hold two conflicting viewpoints on a given subject, never able to recognize the conflict.

  5. wb,
    Also, I really think this happens when we lose our Judeo-Christian world view. Here we can place the importance of epistemology too. The method of logic and reason is tight for the Christian. It is closely attached to the Incarnational reality however. But this is soundly biblical and historical also. To quote an old Anglican, “I only think in Scripture”!
    Fr. R.

    • I dont know if it is the loss of personal responsibility or the idea that logic is too diificult to teach, or that the teachers think the kids cant learn logic, or if the society changers want people who cannot think for themselves, or if it is something else.

  6. Okay, I know that this might sound off coming from me, but it is the reliance upon the government to do what is the Parent’s responsibility. The government is not the educator, but the parent. We can choose what we need to educate our children. Let the Government set guidelines, but letting them do it is another matter.

    Its a race to the bottom, to tenure, to save money, to treat all children equal. Equal rights does not mean equal capabilities.

    • Joel,

      “The government is not the educator, but the parent.”

      I agree this is how it SHOULD be. But for many, that is simply not the case anymore.

      “Equal rights does not mean equal capabilities.”

      I like that line.

      I personally think most children have a high capacity for learning and suceeding. The problem is that most children, like all of us, want to skate by (we’re sinners), and are not held to high standards. The thing is, they will rise in the success of their education if they are held to high standards and taught how to learn. Few people in the public education arena these days are taught how to think or how to learn.

  7. Perhaps many of the above? One thing is certain, people are “dumbing down”. The absolutes of God are seen as control I suppose. But really they are freedom in Christ!
    Fr. R.

  8. joel,

    God has laid the education of our children upon the responsibility of the parents, particularly in the area of God himself. So in that regard, I agree with you.

    However, there has been widely available piblic education since the late 19th century. More people started attending college after WWII. yet, in the early 1980’s studies showed the educational levels of those in the USA has dropped. What happened? The focus shifted from educating to social reform, specifically discrimination. Suddenly what people think/feel about ppl was more important than actually educating them. This began in the 1950’s but really took flight in the 70’s, 80’s , ans 90’s (as the rebellious idealists of the 60’s took more and more leadership roles in politics and education). The end result is that children are not held to high standards, and many teachers couldn’t meet them if they existed.

    As parents became more outraged at the results of public education, four things began to occur, almost simultaneously: teachers demanded more money, parents began lobbying for teacher testing, politicians began calling for and implementing student testing (which those parents who had already lost any sense of personal responsibility for their children began protesting), parents began to pull their children from public schools and either enter them into private schools or began homeschooling.

    Its a race to see if the homeschoolers can successfully battle the UN, USA, and states to continue to have the right to teach their children as their conscience would have them do. I expect the right to eventually disappear as we move toward a one world government.

    But in the mean time, homeschooled children consistently rate much higher than average on national standardized tests, often in the 90th percentile or higher (even after taking into account the dumbing down of the standards themselves in some cases, and regardless of the educational level of the parents).

    Yes, parents have the responsibility, and so far, the right, to ensure the education of their children is as good as it can be. But so long as educators are more concerned with feelings, discrimination, andnsocial engineering than with acually educating in math, language, and logic (including teaching them to question and think for themselves), our children will continue the downward slide on educational ability.

  9. Fr. R,

    people without Christ do not want to be reminded of their sin, so they redefine words and phrases. They call what God has called evil good, and vice versa. They do not believe in heaven, or that they could ever enter such a place or they believe that the here-and-now is more important than the here-after, and so they want to engineer a utopia on earth, so they want to direct education and have people think juuuust so.

  10. Wb, I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but my point is, regardless of the decay of the public schools, parents refuse to accept responsibility for the education of their children. Not all public school are ‘bad,’ but regardless of the quality of public education – good, bad, indifferent – education of the child must not stop.

    The Government has increasingly become more geared to Social Engineering, whether by Courts or by planks in party platforms. I know full well the abuses and the lackluster performance of public-run schools – yet, regardless, for me, this is not a problem.

    But that is not the problem, or an excuse. Instead, parents have become complacent in the lives of their children – even some homeschoolers. They do the basics, or allow others to do the basics. Parents must not settle for the status quo, which is what many do.

    This is simply what I tried to say before.

    • Joel,

      I agree parents have the responsobility.

      But our culture, government, and educational system are more and more claiming the responsibilities lay with the schools and government (unless lil johnny doesnt get good marks). Certain society changers WANT the govt and educators to have that responsibility and the lack of patental involvement (particularly conservative parents) is encouraged. This is encouraged unless suzy suddenly begins to have bad morals or does something illegal, then it was her upbringing or abuse or fill-in-the-blank. Our culture is full of conflicting messages. This has gotten worse and worse since the 1960’s and is showing no signs of improving. This is the result of postmodernity.

  11. It all comes back to the Judeo-Christian ethic, the moral “self” in todays Christendom isn’t even close to the Sophists of philosophical Greece. Even the famous, “Virtue is knowledge” is almost unknown today! Also even in the West, Plato’s view of “justice” is unknown. Our culture is dying in the West, simple! All is Utilitarianism now, Hedonism and finally Narcissism! Even Western theology is rationalistic theory in the main now. Lost is Law (even Moral Law), both theocratic and even intuitional. We are both postmodern and even postchristian here sadly!
    Even Kant argued explicitly that a duty of seeking the highest good compelled us to postulate God, freedom and immortality as “conditions necessary thereto”.

    Fr. R.

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