The Freedom of Language

We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually. (L’Engle, 38)

We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles—we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than “the way things are.” Some of the Ayia Napa delegates came from countries ruled by dictators, either from the right or the left. In both cases, teachers are suspect; writers are suspect, because people who use words are able to work out complex ideas, to see injustice, and perhaps ever try to do something about it. Simply being able to read the Bible in their own language made some of the delegates suspect. I might even go to the extreme of declaring that the deliberate diminution of vocabulary by a dictator, or an advertising copy, is anti-Christian. (L’Engle, 39)

Such was the case in Orwell’s 1984, where language was controlled, rewritten, diminished. Speculative fiction, it looks at our humanity in a world that conceivably could be. The same theme is also in books like Mockingbird and Farenheit 451. For real life examples, Nazism and Communism provide some striking examples. Sadly, so does the church.

We care about the Bible, a book considered by some to be full of myths and fairy tales. Yet, how often do we value imaginitive books outside the Bible? Is the church a place of freedom, or of the status quo? Does the church restrict language? Is it familiar with the conversation at large? The answers aren’t black and white, nor should they be.

Ideas are dangerous, to be sure, but who are they most dangerous too? I’d say those in power, those who have something to lose. Read books. Learn words. Work out complex ideas. Question. It’s the Christian thing to do…

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water. New York: North Point Press. 1995.