Thursday, January 12, 2012

Humpty Dumpty Syndrome

I'm coining this term. It basically means a complete disregard for the real meaning of words for the purpose of advancing a cause of complete egotism. Why Humpty Dumpty? I'm pulling this from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass:

`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.'

Needless to say, there are a lot of people infected with this disease. You could say it's gone viral. Sort of like this video:

If you're looking for a textbook case of Humpty Dumpty Syndrome, this guy is loaded with it. I'm sure he's well-meaning, well-intentioned, a good dancer, and so forth, but let's not pretend that his description of religion is remotely grounded in reality. What he's done is to take a word and then redefine it to suit his own purposes.

In terms of philosophical arguments, what he presents is full of false dichotomies and straw men. I'm not going to get too much into that, as there is already a wonderful analysis posted over at Aggie Catholics. I suggest everyone read it, especially since this video is a good example of an intellectual plague ravaging the world, namely, that the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome is a valid method for arguing a point.

Anyways, I'm pointing out a different problem with this message. Oddly enough, the current en vogue trashing of "religion" by Protestants tends to avoid looking at what the Bible says about the topic. Weird, huh? I wonder why that is. Let's take a look.

First, a quick Bible search will note that the word "religion" is used thirteen times over the entirety of Scripture. Four of those are from books that Protestant found inconvenient and cut out of their own Bibles, so I can get how they might have missed those. I will reproduce this one for the Catholics here since it comes from the book so popular in the Early Church that it was called Ecclesiasticus ("of the Church").

Treat not with a man without religion concerning holiness, nor with an unjust man concerning justice, nor with a woman touching her of whom she is jealous, nor with a coward concerning war, nor with a merchant about traffic, nor with a buyer of selling, nor with an envious man of giving thanks

Sirach 37:12

Religion doesn't sound bad there, does it? In fact, we're instructed not to discuss holiness with someone who lacks religion. But hey, not every Christian has this treasure at their disposal. So what about the other 9 uses of "religion"?

Two are from Esther (8:17/9:27). Of those two, one is a reference to paganism and one is talking about Judaism. Another mention is in Leviticus 16:31, which is also pointing to Judaism.

There is a disturbing trend among Christians to discount the Old Testament as though none of it matters. Let's try to keep in mind here that, prior to the Incarnation, only the Jews worshiped the True God. Only the Jews had the True Faith. Everybody else?

For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils

Psalm 95:5

Paul says much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 10. The point is that we should probably take what these Jews were saying seriously, mainly because, you know, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it for Sacred Scripture. The references to Judaism in the Old Testament as a "religion" are good and positive. Got that? The Holy Spirit thinks that Old Testament Judaism, the religion, was a good thing. And how could it not be since it was given to them by God? I'll add here that this completely annihilates our spoken word friend's analysis of religion as man-made. We see from the Old Testament that religion can be of Divine origin.

Is there bad religion? Sure, since paganism is also called religion in Esther 8:17, and we know from Psalms that paganism is bad. Hence, bad religion.

Naturally, the argument will be that this Old Testament stuff stopped being valid at the Advent of Christ. So maybe religion used to be good, just not anymore. So let's look at how religion is discussed in the New Testament.

Four of the six uses are by Paul. In Acts 26:5 and Galatians 1:13-14, he's again referencing Judaism. These are in less than glowing terms, as he is speaking of his conversion and prior life as a Pharisee. He brings religion up again in Colossians 2:18. Here, he's cautioning his readers against the religion of angel-worship. So all the NT contexts of religion thus far are negative, with some referring to Paul's status as an unconverted Jew (who had the worship of the True God taken away from them and delivered to Christians) and another to what is basically paganism.

So what's left? What's left is James 1:26-27, which are the crux of this post. Verse 26 reads:

And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

Wait a minute. So you can think you are religious, but your religion can be in vain. So that means that there's some religion that's not in vain, right? Absolutely, as is seen in Verse 27:

Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one's self unspotted from this world.

So religion is good. It just has to be the right religion. We can go on to argue about what it means to keep oneself unspotted and so forth, but that's beyond the scope of this post. All we wanted to do here is show that denouncing religion is un-Biblical and stripping words of their meanings and recasting them in one's own image is dishonest.

Jesus fought against hypocritical jerks. He didn't fight against religion. After all, He founded one that is clean and undefiled. Just ask James. Don't ask the guy in the video. He doesn't even know what the word means.

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