The Definition Hurdle
Last month in the United States saw the return of CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in which the conservative political groups get together and toot their own horn and hold a straw vote as to who they want to see run for president in 2016. And as the reports on CPAC speakers began emerging, I was utterly amazed as how the definitions of some words have been twisted to the point where they mean exactly the opposite of what the common definition holds them to mean.
For example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated that the Republican party is the party of “tolerance”. Say what? This is the party who has, 50 times now, tried to repeal the Affordable Health Care act, something that the Republican party’s 2012 candidate, Mitt Romney, advocated for and signed into law in Massachusetts years prior to Obama’s becoming president. This is the party who is pushing for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. This is the party who considers some human beings “illegal aliens” (as if a human being could be illegal!) and who refuses to lift a finger to help the poor and the unemployed/underemployed. This is the party who is making a concerted effort to block the ability of the poor and minorities to vote in the next presidential election, both through laws requiring voter ID cards and through redistricting. This is the party who believes that a woman’s body won’t get pregnant if she is raped and seeks to refuse to allow a woman to have an abortion for any reason. This is tolerance?
During a panel discussion, right-wing talk show host Michael Medved claimed that gay marriages have never been banned by any state in the US. Of course, that’s because a gay person can get married IF they marry someone of the opposite gender. Racists used the same argument for not getting rid of laws that banned blacks from marrying whites: blacks could get married as long as they married another black person! We weren’t violating their civil rights by not allowing them to marry who they loved!
Michelle Bachmann, once a candidate for the US presidency, says that gays are “bullying” the American public and contends that the bill recently vetoed by Arizona’s governor that would have allowed legal discrimination against gays based on deeply held religious beliefs was about same sex marriage and had nothing to do with gays! This redefining of “bullying” is an insult to those who are truly being bullied.
Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, claims that the federal government did NOT “shut down” last October! I guess not conducting business for fifteen or sixteen days is just an extended break for Sandford. (Of course, this is the man who told everyone he’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail and then took a flight to Argentina to be with his mistress. I never new the Appalachian Trail went that far south!)
The Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber recently compared the “persecution” of anti-gay business owners to that of the Jews under the Nazi regime. (Liberty Counsel is closely associated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Falwell of Moral Majority fame)). Such a comparison degrades the true horror of the Jewish persecutions of the Holocaust.
Scott Lively, a virulently anti-gay pastor, called Vladimir Putin a “defender of true human rights”!
Fred Phelps (who has nothing to do with CPAC) is another example of how the meanings of words have been twisted. Fred, who recently celebrated his transition day, ran the notorious “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates America” websites (along with a lot of other sites of groups God hates), believed that he was being loving by picketing the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan because unless we stop being a “fag-enabling” country, according to Fred, we’re all going to end up in hell. So by making us aware that “God hates fags”, Fred was doing something very loving and trying to save our souls. (It was recently revealed that Fred had been kicked out of the Westboro Baptist Church, the church he started and who organizes and participates in the picketing of funerals, several months before his death.)
There is a renewed push for laws to protect what has been termed “religious liberty”. While this sounds like a wonderful idea, what it is really pushing for are laws that would allow people in the public sector (business owners, landlords, etc.) to discriminate against someone who violated their “deeply held religious beliefs”. In other words, legalized discrimination.
The fracking industry is running commercials on television and radio about how safe fracking is for the country and the benefits that fracking provides us by making us more energy independent. And yet in 2012, the fracking industry produced more than 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater (which doesn’t include the other toxins produced by fracking, such as methan poisoning of groundwater tables, which the fracking industry claims doesn’t happen.) Much of that wastewater was produced in states that are in the midst of droughts and in states where water is a scarce resource. There has been a marked increase in the number of earthquakes in the states in which there is a lot of fracking as well. In Oklahoma, for example, there has been average of about 75 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude or greater in the four year period from 2009-2012. In 2013, that number jumped to 222. And if the pace of the first six weeks of 2014 continues, Oklahoma will experience a whopping 780+ earthquakes this year! (Source) And when they wanted to frack near the home of an Exxon Mobile corporate bigwig? He joined a lawsuit to prevent it from damaging his property value. But it’s “safe”!
Don’t get me wrong: this kind of thing has been happening for a very long time. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Maggie Gallagher, Pat Robertson, James Dobson (just to name a few): all these right wingers have been twisting the meaning of words for years. Some for decades. (Yes, it happens in the Democratic party and among liberal causes as well, but these groups have nowhere near the media coverage and exposure as the conservatives.)
But what is surprising is how blatant the distortions are becoming. And what is frightening is that many recent studies have shown that there is something called the “backfire” effect. This means when you explain the distortion to people and explain the real truth, they become MORE likely to believe the distortion is true!
And the problem isn’t just with the famous (or infamous). It’s among the “common” folks as well. Just the other day, a friend of mine posted a cartoon in which one character stated that she was pro-choice and the other asked a series of questions like “Can I choose to smoke?” and “Can I choose to drink a large soda?” The first character always replied “No” and gave some reason like “It’s bad for you.” After six such questions, the second character asked “What can I choose?” and the first answered “An abortion.”
I pointed out to my friend that this cartoon was filled with lies because people CAN smoke, they just can’t smoke in public where their smoke will be breathed by others who do not smoke. (Her response was “Then don’t go to places that allow smoking”, but if that’s everywhere, then what choice do I have but to sit at home?) I demonstrated to her that every statement was a lie, except of course that one can (for now) choose to have an abortion, usually after jumping through a bunch of hoops.
She replied that the cartoon was just an opinion and everyone was entitled to an opinion. I proceeded to explain to her that opinions have no right/wrong and cannot be shown to be demonstrably true or false. And she simply repeated that she was entitled to her opinion, as if repeating it was just an opinion would change the definition of opinion!
What, you might ask, does this have to do with the Global Conversation?
Our goal, so to speak, is to open a dialogue so that we can discuss possible changes in that which we have refused to change (or even discuss really!) for the past 2000 years: our understanding of God. It is going to be challenging to hold a meaningful discussion if the different sides of the conversation don’t even have the same meaning for words.
We are going to have to find ways around, over or through this very large hurdle if this dialogue is to take place. Talking amongst ourselves really accomplishes nothing because we’re “preaching to the choir”. We know we have to change and expand our beliefs about God and our Oneness and the role of humanity in this universe. The key is to get others involved in the conversation in order to have a chance to create the kind of world we all say we want: a world of peace in which we all live according to the beliefs we hold dear, respecting the rights of everyone else to do the same.
When people don’t even agree on the definitions of words because the national figures that support their current beliefs twist words so that they mean sometimes exactly the opposite of what they actually mean, this conversation becomes much more difficult. Not impossible, mind you. But more difficult. And it becomes all the more urgent because now, before we can even begin to discuss expanding our beliefs about God, we have to find common ground once more on what we mean when we say “compassion” and “tolerance” and “liberty”.