Maybe it’s my imagination, but the great desecration in cracker-gate died down more quickly than I would have imagined. That’s some kind of internal imagining contradiction, I suppose, quite appropriate for talking about religious questions, which themselves seem to be endless sources of linguistic tangles. When it comes to linguistics, no better place than The Language Log, where I found a tiny disquisition on Good and Evil connected with a new word (for me), “to linquify”:
We need a new term for what is going on; although I don’t in general think you can only grasp concepts that you have words for, I have learned to my cost that at least some people find it hard to get the hang of a new concept if they have no word for it, and Mark agrees that there is no term already in use. I therefore take the step of coining a new lexeme: linguify. It is a term relating to the writer’s art, and in particular to journalism. Definition: To linguify a claim about things in the world is to take that claim and construct from it an entirely different claim that makes reference to the words or other linguistic items used to talk about those things, and then use the latter claim in a context where the former would be appropriate. (Geoffrey K. Pullum, Linguifying, The Language Log)
Outside of the fact that I keep reading it “liquify,” it seems like a very useful and interesting word. Here is an example from another Language Logger, Eric Baković (Between Good and Evil, The Language Log):
Finally, consider the linguified semi-rhetorical question asked in this letter from William Payne of Overland Park, KS (emphasis added):
In “Faith, Reason, God,” Richard Dawkins is quoted comparing faith to a disease yet pointing to Steven Weinberg’s statement that for “good” people to do “evil” it “takes religion.” If God does not exist, what do terms like good and evil really mean? Do they mean anything an individual wants them to mean? And if they can mean anything, don’t they ultimately mean nothing?
Apparently for Mr. Payne, “good” and “evil” can only have meanings in the context of a God that gives them those meanings; what is “good” is what God says is good, and what is “evil” is what God says is evil — and presumably, the only way we mere mortals can know whether to do good or to do evil is to consider what God says will happen (for example, if we do good, we go to heaven; if we do evil, we go to hell). This naive view of word meaning reminds me of an exchange between Jim McCloskey and a student in a class that I was an undergraduate reader for at UCSC:
McCloskey: Where do words come from?
Student: The dictionary.
McCloskey: Ah, but where does the dictionary come from?
Student: [hesitates a little] God?
Here the “linguifying” relates to making Good and Evil have meanings only if there is a God. There is a claim about the world (there is a God) that is transformed into a claim about words, that Good and Evil would have no meaning without the existence of a God. The claim of God’s existence has been linguified.
This is the intellectual upper bound of the Good and Evil debate. As cracker-gate illustrated, there seems to be no lower bound. PZ and I have only met face to face once and while I have 15 years on him and am really a grandfather and he isn’t, he is the one that seems grandfatherly. Certainly not the personification of Evil. He and I have very different styles and temperaments, but on the substance I am with him 100%. For me, this snippet from his long post is the core of the cracker desecration episode:
For even deeper inanity, let’s not forget the Catholic blogs! We’re talking some serious derangement there: look at Mark Shea’s reaction.
I won’t mince words. Myers is an evil man. And as evil men, particularly evil intellectuals, tend to be, he is also a mad man as are most of his acolytes and followers.
Myers and Co. are enmeshed in these lies because they have chosen evil. It is evil–archetypally evil–to desecrate the Eucharist. It’s the sort of stuff archetypal bad guys in the movies do. It’s completely unnecessary gratuitous evil.
To the Mark Shea’s of the world, I would say…it’s just a cracker.
I think if I were truly evil, I would have to demand that all of my acolytes be celibate, but would turn a blind eye to any sexual depravities they might commit. If I wanted to be an evil hypocrite, I’d drape myself in expensive jeweled robes and live in an ornate palace while telling all my followers that poverty is a virtue. If I wanted to commit world-class evil, I’d undermine efforts at family planning by the poor, especially if I could simultaneously enable the spread of deadly diseases. And if I wanted to be so evil that I would commit a devastating crime against the whole of the human race, twisting the minds of children into ignorance and hatred, I would be promoting the indoctrination of religion in children’s upbringing, and fomenting hatred against anyone who dared speak out in defiance. (The Great Desecration, Pharyngula)
People have lots of different ideas of what constitutes Evil, but the idea that desecrating the Eucharist is evil — as opposed to sacrireligious, obnoxious, offensive or any of a number of other adjectives (none of which I agree with but which seem to be held by some otherwise reasonable people) — is so stupid it calls for a linguification:
To conflate “evil” and “desecration of the Eucharist” is to invite ridicule.