Photo of derelict church by Only2Eyes

Forgetting ourselves

Posted in Comment


It’s getting harder for religious believers to talk about God because western culture is losing touch with religious language, according to Jonathan Merritt, in a New York Times opinion piece.

Despite the fact that 70 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, theological, religious and ethical words which have been known and valued in the western world for centuries are now being forgotten, he says. The trend is making Christian more reluctant to talk about God to people outside their faith, and to each other:

One might expect a meaty theological term like ‘salvation’ to fade, but basic moral and religious words are also falling out of use. A study in The Journal of Positive Psychology analyzed 50 terms associated with moral virtue. Language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit – words like ‘love,’ ‘patience,’ ‘gentleness’ and ‘faithfulness’ – has become much rarer. Humility words, like ‘modesty,’ fell by 52 percent. Compassion words, like ‘kindness,’ dropped by 56 percent. Gratitude words, like ‘thankfulness,’ declined by 49 percent.

The reluctance to talk about God leaves an empty microphone which other actors are only too eager to seize:

That toothy televangelist keeps using spiritual language to call for donations to buy a second jet. The politician keeps using spiritual language to push unjust legislation. The street preacher keeps using spiritual language to peddle the fear of a fiery hell. They can dominate the conversation because we’ve stopped speaking God. In our effort to avoid contributing to the problem, we can actually worsen it.

Read the complete piece: It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God

Photo: Only2Eyes under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins is the editor of Ship of Fools, and the author of comedy-meets-religion book, Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse.

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