391. language is fuzzy (part 2) – cats and Christian boxes

(Click here for part 1.)

In my last post, I talked about the imprecise nature of language – how words and phrases have a built-in sort of fuzziness to them. I started with a story about a high school trip to DC and how I got left at the Air and Space Museum by mistake. At first I didn’t panic because I knew we were staying at the Days Inn and I thought that there was just one of these in the area. However, when I asked someone for the number to the Days Inn in DC, I learned that there were something like eight or nine of them. And that’s when I started to panic.

I ended that last post saying that “I see that same sort of panic and anxiety in the evangelical church today (especially on the fundamentalist end) and I think a lot of it is rooted in the same sort of Days Inn disconnect that I felt in DC.”

Let me put it this way. Think of the phrase “Days Inn in DC” as a box.1 I thought there was only one thing in the box (one Days Inn) but when I learned that there were many things in there, I panicked because I learned that the situation I found myself in was more complicated than I thought.

Basically, all words and phrases are boxes that hold multiple meanings.

And language is fuzzy because of this boxy/container nature of words.

Let’s try a couple more examples. Take a look at this sentence:

The cat sat on a mat.

The words “cat” and “mat” are both boxes that hold a number of different kinds of cats and mats. However, that’s a trivial example so we don’t worry about the fact that we can’t know for sure what specific kind of cat/mat that sentence is referring to.

Photo credit: Grumpy Cats

Now take a look at this sentence:

Jane is a Christian.

Most Christians would be pleased by that sentence because when it comes to Christianity, the general sentiment is: the more the merrier. But what happens when we start to get more specific about the kind of Christian that Jane is.

Jane is a lesbian in a loving, longterm, marriage with Janet who is also a Christian.

At this point, some Christians start to freak out the same way I did back in DC.
Because Jane is a lesbian, they believe that she doesn’t fit into the Christian box. Christians who feel this way tend to believe that only certain things can go into the Christian box and that certain things are excluded. More importantly, they believe they know for certain which things belong and which don’t, and for them, a lesbian just doesn’t belong.

They base this certainty on their reading of the Bible, but here’s the thing. If words are fuzzy, and if the Bible is full of words (over 800,000 depending on how you count them) then can we really know for certain which things belong and don’t belong in the Christian box based on how we read the Bible?

Now one might object here, “well does that mean that anything and everything can be considered Christian? If language is as fuzzy as you claim then is there any meaning at all in the Bible?”

And that’s a great question which I’ll address in my next post. Stay tuned!

1 I’m borrowing this metaphor from this podcast. If you’re looking for a more rigorous take on the problem of language and the evangelical church, I highly recommend you listen to the podcast and/or read Peter Blum’s book, For a Church to Come: Experiments in Postmodern Theory and Anabaptist Thought.