If you have not done so, it’s time to read Lewis Carroll’s classic offerings to great American literature. Through the Looking Glass is Carroll’s 1871 sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The theological undercurrents and the insight we get into progressive language arts today is significant.
Let’s turn to Alice’s encounter with Humpty Dumpty. Yes, that Humpty Dumpty. He sat on a wall, but in Carroll’s tale he sat in judgment over the more traditional Alice, and he redefined words in ways that lead to nonsensical confusion. Ultimately, Humpty Dumpty experienced a great fall, but not before he wreaked havoc on language.
Humpty Dumpty uses words that are familiar to Alice, but his use of those words is not. Some would call Humpty Dumpty’s use of language artful, creative and free. But his mastery of language through nonsensical redefinition is to the goal of power over others, not communication with them.
When Alice confesses her confusion, the following conversation ensues:
“Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t – till I tell you.’
…’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
The question is, said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’”
Is this mastery of language or merely the self-elevation of one destined to fall apart as master over all who he perceives to be beneath him?
The heart issue is beyond the scope of our language arts lesson so let’s focus on the question of communication.
You can seek to communicate with me in a myriad of ways. But until and unless I receive and respond to the message, no legitimate communication has occurred.
All communication is based on language — verbal, written, sign or body — even facial expression communicates. But we all know that when the two parties involved do not share a mutual understanding of the words, signs or mannerisms, what results is the opposite of communication.
In the words of the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Many times mis-communication results from ignorance, but sometimes it is the result of the intentional manipulation of language. The intentional twisting of the meaning of commonly understood words produces confusion and is detrimental to organizational advancement and community unity.
Those who spend much time interacting online know the oft-quoted line, “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.” It was originally said by fictional character Inigo Montoya in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. The film is based on a 1973 novel and so fits our “back to school” literature and language arts theme.
The point is this: if we do not agree on the meaning of the words we use then our attempts to communicate become meaningless.
Progressive efforts in both the Church and culture seek to redefine and repurpose words based on re-imaginings that are impossible to align with the original meaning. The result is that people “think” they’re communicating when, in fact, they are being manipulated and mastered.
What words? How about “mission,” “evangelism” and “Christ?” Think you know what those words mean? Is that what the other person means when they use them? Don’t be so sure.
Rob Renfroe, publisher of Good News, astutely observes that the effort of those sitting on Humpty Dumpty’s wall is not only to master the conversation but ultimately the church itself.
What some see as the intentional manipulation of communication is just language arts by another name.
For more about the return to school, visit http://www.worldmag.com/2013/08/troubling_trends