Religion means "be careful"

In a discussion of how Roman Catholic church bureaucracy and the American Academy of Religion both try to keep the lid on supernatural experiences, the notable Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger cites some interesting etymology:

Sociologists who deal with religion often like to refer to the etymology of the Latin word religio. Supposedly it derives from the verb religare—to re-bind. If so, this points to a very valid insight, most fully formulated by the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim—namely, that religion provides the symbolic ligature that keeps a society together. I understand that Latinists reject this etymology for a different, and actually more interesting one: Religio derives from relegere—to be careful. In other words, the supernatural is a very dangerous reality—one has to approach it with great caution. This understanding was brilliantly formulated by Rudolf Otto, arguably one of the greatest twentieth-century historians of religion, in his book The Idea of the Holy. Religion is always based on an experience, on whatever level of intensity or sophistication, with a reality that is intensely dangerous. . . .

Otto coined the term “numinous” to refer to this experience. His German language too seems to break down, as he falls back on Latin to describe the numinous—it is a mysterium tremendum, both terrifying and alluring. It is totaliter aliter—totally other than the fabric of everyday life. Above all, it is extremely dangerous. This is why, in the Bible and in other sacred scriptures, the first words spoken by an angel to a human being is “Do not be afraid!”

via Defanging the Supernatural | Religion and Other Curiosities.

This, I think, is what is missing in so much of today’s Christianity:  the fear of God.  We have tamed our own religion.  We are no longer “careful,” and so we have lost the “numinous” and thus the sense of holiness.   I would argue that the historic liturgy and sacramental spirituality retain that sense, whereas so much of the trappings of contemporary Christianity, in its worship and art forms, have the effect of domesticating  the supernatural and rendering it banal.

The origin of "OK"

Where did that odd but omnipresent word “OK” come from?  The word has even gone beyond the English language and has become commonplace in languages around the world?  I’ve heard various theories.  But a new book about the expression cites what it calls definitive proof about its etymology.  The book is OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word
Here is a summary of the word’s origins from a review by Jonathan Yardley, who begins by quoting the author, Allan Metcalf:

“Thanks to the published work of Allen Walker Read, who documented the emergence and spread of OK in 1839 and 1840 with literally hundreds of contemporary citations, it is absolutely clear that OK began as a joke in a Boston newspaper and was transformed by politics and a hoax into the expression we still use today. The trail of written evidence from that day to the present is thick and clear. No other origin is plausible. Yet throughout the history of OK there have been doubts. If it weren’t for the overwhelming evidence, the true history of OK would indeed be hard to believe.”

The joke that got it all started is considerably less than funny today. You had to be there, there being Boston in March 1839. A minor controversy had arisen between certain citizens of that city and its neighbor to the southwest, Providence, the details of which are too trivial to merit elaboration in this limited space. Suffice it to say that the editor of the Boston Post was inspired to invent the phrase “o.k.,” which he defined as “all correct.” As Metcalf says, “The joke that o.k. would be an abbreviation for all correct, when neither o nor k was the correct spelling, was such a stretch that it required the explanation ‘o.k. – all correct’ to follow immediately.”

Whether readers of the Post were left rolling in the aisles has not been reported, but the newspaper’s editor, Charles Gordon Greene, was so enamored of his witticism that he employed it again three days later, and he got it on the road to immortality by elevating it to O.K. This was confirmed in October of the same year when the Evening Transcript, the newspaper of Boston’s elite, proclaimed that “the suspension of the U.S. Bank and its dependencies . . . is O.K. (all correct) in this quarter,” but by then OK had even made its way to New York, and the rest is history.

But history rarely if ever is tidy, and the march of OK into the heart of the language was neither rapid nor sure-footed. Metcalf argues that, in addition to “the fad for joking abbreviations in Boston newspapers of the late 1830s,” the process was nudged along by three other factors: the presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren in 1840, the presidency of Andrew Jackson and the invention of the telegraph. The first was important because Van Buren acquired the nickname “Old Kinderhook” after his home town in Upstate New York: “OK now could have a double meaning: Old Kinderhook was all correct.” Then as the log-cabin legend of Jackson gained steam, it was claimed – falsely – that in his rough frontier style he had declared a friend “Ole Kurrek (all correct) and no mistake.” Finally, the invention of the telegraph made the use of OK as shorthand for “all right” commonplace. After that, it was clear sailing.

via Linguistically, America is A-OK.

Obama uses Clinton's 1994 speech

Pro-Obama pundit Dana Milbank notes a curious fact about the President’s campaign speeches:

As he barnstorms the country in these closing days before the midterms, he has borrowed Bill Clinton’s 1994 stump speech — in some cases, word for word.

“It’s up to you to remember that this election is a choice,” Obama said in a recent speech. “It’s a choice between the past and the future; a choice between hope and fear; a choice between falling backwards and moving forwards. And I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward. I don’t want to go backward.”

Compare that to this common Clinton passage from ’94: “Ladies and gentlemen, this election, all over America, represents a choice, a choice between hope and fear . . . between whether we’re going forward or we’re going to go back. I think I know the answer to that. You want to keep going forward.”

Obama has even extended Clinton’s automotive metaphor of ’94. Clinton’s model: “You know, if you drive your car and there’s a lot of stuff on the windshield, you could think it’s dark outside when the sun shining. . . . That’s what they’ve done. They’ve put a lot of dirt on America’s windshield. We got to clean it off between now and Tuesday. Will you help? Will you do your part? Will you go forward? . . . Think about it like this: Every one of you is in the driver’s seat.”

In Obama’s model, Republicans drove a car into a ditch and were “kicking dirt down into the ditch, kicking dirt in our faces, but we kept on pushing. Finally we got this car up on level ground. And, yes, it’s a little beat up. . . . But it’s pointing in the right direction. And now we’ve got the Republicans tapping us on the shoulder, saying, ‘we want the keys back.’ You can’t have the keys back. You don’t know how to drive. You can ride with us if you want, but you got to sit in the back seat. We’re going to put middle-class America in the front seat. . . . I’m going forwards, with all of you.”

via Dana Milbank – Obama isn’t ducking role in election reprise of ’94.

I don’t consider this plagiarism.  There are only so many cliches that one can use to describe both presidents’ dilemmas, and I’m sure they are in the public domain.

The insanity charge

Kyle-Anne Shiver notes another trend in today’s political rhetoric from the left:  Accusing those they disagree with of being insane.  We have Jon Stewart’s upcoming “Restoring Sanity” rally, the NPR exec who said before she fired him that  Juan Williams should just confide his fear of Muslims to his psychiatrist, the psychoanalyzing of the President about  lizard-brained voters, and all kinds of comments about tea-party populists.  She notes:

The Soviets were infamous for declaring any vocal dissident “insane,” putting them in psychiatric “hospitals,” turning the shock therapy machines to full voltage, and throwing away the keys.

via Pajamas Media » Dems Playing Soviet-Style Insanity Card.

When I was in Estonia, I met a poet who had just been released from a mental institution where he had been consigned for writing a poem critical of communism.   Under Marxist theory, art and literature reflect the economic superstructure of the society.  Under a socialist society, a poet who do does not reflect the reality of socialism must therefore be disconnected from reality.  Therefore, insane.

It isn’t that the culture czars were simply trying to shut up a critic.  They really did think he was insane, according to their worldview and their definition of insanity.  (We even had that here in a comment in our discussion of the president’s remark about his opponents not being rational or “scientific” because when they are afraid a different part of the brain takes over.  The commenter argued essentially that  conservatives really ARE irrational.)

I’m not saying that these silly political slams are equivalent to the Soviet persecution of artists. Just that this is dangerous rhetoric to be throwing around.

The most arrogant words ever?

Another unpacking of presidential rhetoric, this time by Michael Gerson:

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now,” he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, “and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”

Let’s unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

The neocortical presidency destroys the possibility of political dialogue. What could Obama possibly learn from voters who are embittered, confused and dominated by subconscious evolutionary fears? They have nothing to teach, nothing to offer to the superior mind. Instead of engaging in debate, Obama resorts to reductionism, explaining his opponents away.

It is ironic that the great defender of “science” should be in the thrall of pseudoscience. Human beings under stress are not hard-wired for stupidity, which would be a distinct evolutionary disadvantage. The calculation of risk and a preference for proven practices are the conservative contributions to the survival of the species. Whatever neuroscience may explain about political behavior, it does not mean that the fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.

via Michael Gerson – Obama the snob.

I don’t know if you can answer this question with your lizard brain, but do you think this is the most arrogant statement ever, or can you think of other candidates?

Kiddie profanity

Their parents must think it cute:

Children as young as two are now dropping f-bombs, with researchers reporting that more kids are using profanity — and at earlier ages — than has been recorded in at least three decades.

So finds data presented at this month’s Sociolinguistics Symposium in the U.K., at which swearing scholar Timothy Jay revealed that the rise in vulgarity within adult culture dovetails with similar spikes in the number of youths using offensive language.

“By the time kids go to school now, they’re saying all the words that we try to protect them from on television,” says Jay, a psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. “We find their swearing really takes off between (ages) three and four.”

But if you want to understand why children are cussing more, he says you have to ask why their parents are, too. Jay, a profanity researcher for more than 30 years, finds two-thirds of adults with rules against swearing will themselves swear at home — a kind of lexical tick that’s knit deeper into our neurons every day.

via Canada.com

Can anyone explain the function of profanity today? I mean, I understand about taboo language and how that plays into the desire to shock, the expression of anger, etc. But evidently profane language has become so commonplace that it is not taboo anymore. So it can’t really function to shock, express anger, etc., the way it used to when it was rarer. So why is it so commonplace, and what does that mean?


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