Remember the days when “Zie Hir” was the way Germans said “See here!” in English-language war movies?
Well those words are still being used in a war, but this time it’s a conflagration that will run far longer than anything Europe threw up in 1939. It’s the battle of language and meaning, that’s been hotting up over the past four decades, and shows no sign of abating.
Simply put, the Daniel Andrews’ Labor Government in Victoria is keen to introduce the “gender neutral” terms “zie” and “hir” to replace the terms “husband” and “wife”. That it will be rolled out in the relative safety of that sheltered workshop known as the public service is some comfort at least.
If this year has been the year of anything (it seems to have been the year of everything), it’s been yet another year of the battle for language and meaning. And the Andrews’ agenda is not simply to make workplaces nice and safe for all sorts of gender and sexuality types, but to determine meaning, to crush a creation-mandated understanding that goes back to Genesis. It’s so unoriginal, like the lie it began with, that it’s almost a yawn.
All of this tells us that language is a theological matter above all else, and therefore moral.
And this anti-theological, anti-moral push is infectious. Even certain wings of the church are catching the virus. Only they dress it up as the path to spiritual freedom, rather than the bondage it undoubtedly is. The joke used to be “How do you create a small business in Australia? Give a big business to Alan Bond.” The theological version is “How do you create a small denomination in Australia? Give a big denomination to a theological language coward.”
And that’s not just the case in the mainline denominations that have collapsed in on themselves. As Murray Campbell in his blog puts so clearly, the “me-tooism” of theologians is there for all to see even in evangelicalism.
So when a retiring evangelical theological college principal in Melbourne bemoans our use of “Our Father in heaven” then I guess all one can do is roll ones eyes and sigh “take it up with Jesus.” Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt, but the sheer exhilarating permission to address the Creator of the universe as “Our Father” is comprehensively neutralised, if not by a language Nazi, then a language collaborator at least. We should view this as the theological crime that it is.
Then again, perhaps there’s just something in the water in Victoria. Perhaps we need a new category for theologians. Anti-theologians perhaps. We need to remove the neo-logism from our sibling’s eye, and make no excuses for doing so. Nothing less than the healthy future of the church is at stake.
Of course battles are fought on more than one front if they are to be successful, and once again the good state of Victoria has led the way this year, with its, ultimately failed, attempt to enforce an anti-discrimination policy on church organisations (and only church organisations) when it came to their right to employ those who hold to central Christian tenets. For what it’s worth, I think that was a temporary reprieve. Progressivism doesn’t take “no” or whatever word we use for “no” these days, for an answer.
And then there’s the Bill Leak controversy in which the celebrated cartoonist was battered over the head (not actually, well not so far anyway), for promulgating opinions in print that some found offensive.
The irony, therefore, of the “post-truth” lament from those on the Left in the light of the Trump victory/debacle is indeed rich. It’s as if they hadn’t realised that the abused end up being the abusers, given enough time. If you want to cudgel with language those you disagree with, then when the cudgel finds its way into your opponents hands, do you really expect mercy? Trump played fast and loose with the truth. The tools were prepared earlier in the Ivy League universities, and in true businessman fashion he found a wider, more profitable use for them in Walmart.
So as we go in to 2017, let’s not assume that it will be anything less than more of the same in the language battle. The soft, pillowy “Zie Hir” future of love and diversity is little more than a brutalist “Zieg Heil” of intolerance; the next staging post of a deep rejection of theological, linguistic and economic correspondences that began with the words “and God said.”