The meaningless drivel that passes for public language these days was the major theme of my chat last week with Todd Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc. In our conversation broadcast on 24 May 2013, Todd and I discussed my article “Scotland the confused: Did Presbyterians back gay clergy?", posted at GetReligion and talked about all that double-talk. I led off my GetReligion post with the observation:
Something happened on Monday at the General Assembly the Church of Scotland — they appear to have become Anglicans. No — they didn’t change from a Presbyterian to Episcopal form of church government. They did something more Anglican than combining bishops with Calvinism. They’ve accepted the sacred “yes/but” Anglican doctrine of deliberate confusion, and have adopted a policy on gay clergy that no one quite seems to understand.
What lay behind my observation was the news the General Assembly had adopted a new policy on gay clergy. Same-sex relations continue to be placed in the sin column for the Church of Scotland -- but individual congregations can opt out of this view and hire non-celibate gay clergy. The gay clergy bill must be backed by majority of the presbyteries and at this point only 35% are in favor. The issue becomes further confused as the Guardian announced this was a victory for supporters of gay clergy, running the headline “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers.”
Two years earlier the Guardian ran a story about the 2011 General Assembly with the headline “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers”, reporting the news the church of Scotland had voted to allow gay clergy. Problem with the headlines was that they reported what the Guardian wanted to have happened, not what did happen.
Doubtless we will see another Guardian headline in 2015 stating church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers.
I should not be too hard on the Guardian. It has approached this story through a worldview that sees objections to the normalization of homosexuality as backwards, bigoted and small-minded. The desire to see the right outcome occur is coupled with double-talk from the Presbyterian Church. This problem is not confined to the Church of Scotland however -- the Anglican world too relies on clichés and trite phrases that more often than not are incomprehensible.
In his book "Death Sentence – The Decay of Public Language", Don Watson argues that public language has been poisoned by a corporate speak that has no soul, no imagination and is useless in conveying humor, nuance or feelings.
... in public life the language has never been held in less regard. It withers in the dungeons of the technocratic mind. It is butchered by the media. In politics it lacks all qualifications for the main game.
His publisher's blurb adds:
Almost sixty years ago, George Orwell described the decay of language and why this threatened democratic society. But compared to what we now endure, the public language of Orwell's day brimmed with life and truth. Today's corporations, government departments, news media, and, perhaps most dangerously, politicians – speak to each other and to us in cliched, impenetrable, lifeless sludge.
To this list of villains I would the institutional church -- Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox -- all are infected with church speak, where language is not used to convey information but to confuse, dull and blur truth. Well this is what I hoped to convey in the interview. See what you think.