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The Most Dangerous Word

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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While prose is my preferred form of written expression, I’ve also dabbled over the years in poetry. Once we develop an obsession with words, writers are always looking for new ways to play with words, it seems.

I write in a form of poetry called unrhymed verse. Many poets insist that unrhymed verse is not poetry at all and look down their noses at those of us who write in the form, insisting that we only write unrhymed because we are incapable of rhyming! As a response to that accusation, I wrote a poem (of course) disputing the claim. I’ll not bore you with the entire poem, but the last few lines seem relevant to this column. The poem, called “Rhyme Crimes,” ends with the following lines:

…Name it as
you like I guess, my words
are neither more nor less
than often uninvited guests
that laugh or weep at my
request then leave behind
a wretched mess.

We often use words in communication as a kind of shorthand. If you ask me to describe the house I live in, I could go into a long treatise about the inside and out architectural details, or I could tell you I live in, for example, a mid-century modern ranch style home. In southeast Texas I would have in mind the single story, three bedroom, two bath brick home that I grew up in during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Now, you may picture something slightly different, but we are probably in the same ballpark. The phrase mid-century modern evokes a connotation for me, though, beyond the physical description of a house. It brings back memories of family Christmases in the formal living room, making purple taffey (don’t ask) in the kitchen with my mom, or working in the photo darkroom I built in the garage in the beginnings of my lifelong photography obsession.

Words have both meaning and connotation. And that makes them dangerous in the hands of bad actors with suspect motives because such folks can empty the word of meaning, and use it to invoke a specific connotation, and then refill it with any meaning they like, convincing you to buy into an outcome that you may regret.

I would argue that at this inflection point in history, the word “Christian” is the most dangerous word in the English language. It is dangerous because it has been emptied of meaning and used for the connotation it holds for most people.

The word “Christian” has a fundamentally simple meaning. It denotes a follower of Christ. You’ve accepted who the writers of the New Testament claim Jesus to be, and believe He is your personal savior. Simple? Not really.

Most people who describe themselves as Christians are, when questioned (and there have been numerous studies on this over the years), what I dub social or cultural Christians. Most people who make professions of faith are younger than 18 when they do. If you become an adult without formally becoming a Christian, it is very unlikely that you will.

More problematic is that those who make these professions will likely never read the New Testament through even once, and will not, if questioned, be able to answer the simplest questions about Jesus’ life and work. They also will not attend a church with any regularity as an adult. But when asked, they will proudly declare that they are a bible believing, Jesus following Christian.

If you have never read the essential book supporting your belief, then you can’t be a “Christian,” because you don’t have any idea what that means. More dangerously, you don’t have the background to determine if someone calling himself a Christian is lying to you.  

Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is, in fact, an actual follower of Christ. There are many people today who have emptied the word “Christian” of its real meaning and filled it with very ugly things. They are using the word’s connotation rather than its content. Invoking images of your old grandma kneeing beside the bed praying is very powerful. But if what they are telling you is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, they are not Christians and are very dangerous people.

And this is one of the reasons it is so dangerous to mix government and religion. Governments around the world are doing very bad things in the name of religion. They are primarily Theocratic dictatorships who use God words to beat their populace into compliance.

If those who represent you in government claim to be Christians, but do not act consistently to Jesus’ teaching in the bible, they are NOT Christians. If they don’t project Jesus’ love, and instead spread hate and division, they are not Christians. They have emptied Christianity of its power, to secure power to themselves.

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