We human beings put a lot of emphasis on words. Since we started talking, we've relied on words to be our most vital foundation of society. The books that the religious world holds as "holy" all began as oral traditions, carried on through the generations by elders and told to the young as a part of understanding our heritage. The ancient Sumerian culture left us the written tale of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but that tale likely existed for hundreds of years being carried by word of mouth before finally being committed to historical record as one of the oldest known written tales ever found. These words stoke the imagination and tug at our emotions - indeed I have found that very few things can work as well on the emotions as literature and language.
But what are these words we put so much stock in? Do they have substance and power of their own - or are they merely expressions of things greater than themselves? Many of us view language as something special that only we humans possess, but that idea is a complete farce. The truth is that all living things "speak." We all communicate with those around us, right down to the flowers and grass in your yard. We're all "talking" - even if we fail to be listening or fail to understand what's being said. In the end, our talking to one another is simply a way to convey ideas and the reason human language seems so complex and special is that we have a lot of ideas to convey. But these words themselves have no intrinsic value, and the honest truth is that the word shit has no more or less value than the word love. They both mean to convey an idea, and the value of the word is intrinsically tied to the idea it's meant to represent. Simply by changing the idea represented by the word love, I could change it from a good word to a bad word - just like Hitler taking a symbol of peace in the swastika and turning it into a symbol of murder and tyranny. And in similar fashion, I can use the term shit, which generally refers to feces, in a positive way such as, "That shit was awesome!" - which doesn't tend to conjure up any ideas of feces at all.
Today's Blog Brought To You By The Letters Alpha & Omega
In the Abrahamic traditions we are told that God spoke the universe into existence. That, my friends, is the power that we humans believe words have. We believe that words actually have the power to create things. We believe that our words, given as prayers, can alter the mind and will of a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient God. And in all our exaltation of our words, we forget that those words are only worth the ideas they represent. So when I point out that when one cannot even define the idea of God to any agreeable point and this offers that even the very idea lacks substance, it often offends people. I'm sorry, but if you can't agree on the idea the word is meant to represent, then how can I take the word or the idea seriously. It would be like the English word tree meaning to express everything from a car to a cellphone and no one can agree on what it means - at that point the word tree would become as meaningless as trying to define the taste of a snozzberry.
If I say a word it will cause you to conjure an image in your mind. If I say "tree," you will envision a plant of large distinction that towers over the flowers, bushes, and grass below. You will picture branches and leaves and even roots. We may all picture a different species of tree with different characteristics, but they will likely all be recognizable as a tree. The idea behind that word has definitive substance that is relevant to each of us. But what about the idea behind the word god...? If I asked 100 people to define god, I would likely get 100 very different responses. Even if I only asked Christians, their answers would differ in such great amount that trying to formulate a single definitive idea of what god is from those answers would be an exercise in futility. This should be clear by the fact that well over 30,000 different denominations of Christianity exist and the main contention between them all is "the word."
Also Brought To You By The Number Quadrillion
Some words express ideas that are truly outside of our comprehension, such as massive mathematical numbers. In an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit, Penn tries to explain this using M&M candies showing that we generally think in terms of small amounts. One or two is easily understood and when we get to three and beyond we tend to just say it's "a few." When we get up to 100 or so, that's "a lot." We've even come up with colorful terms to describe even greater amounts, like "a shit-ton" or an "ass-load." When we hear those terms we just see "a lot" of whatever we're talking about. But the word quadrillion has little real meaning to the average man - to us that's just an "ass-load." A trillion dollars and a quadrillion dollars conjure the same image in my mind, that of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a safe of gold coins, because I've never seen a million dollars let alone a trillion or quadrillion. These numbers and ideas simply lack any relevant substance for me - don't get me wrong, I'd love to have that money because the idea of wealth most surely has relevant substance for me. I've seen wealth and it's something I can envision for myself.
So what does this have to do with God...? Well, here's the thing; Have you ever seen God? Have you ever seen God do something by which you can assess its character? I've had many theists claim to be aware of God's presence in their lives, but when pressed to demonstrate that the things they claim as evidence of God could not merely be a part of the natural world, they can offer no such evidence. So in the end, while the idea of god may have relevance to the individual, the idea has no definitive relevance to humanity as a whole. God can be a "shit-ton" or nothing at all. God can be presented as an influence that saves you in a car wreck or the will that imposes itself to take the life of a child. But in all these things, we see no tangible substance that we can pinpoint as God. The snozzberries may taste like snozzberries - but if no one has ever actually tasted a snozzberry, that assertion lacks any meaning in the least.
Today's Blog Also Brought to you by the Geometric Shape Known as a Rhombus
Our earliest attempts to convey ideas came in the form of pictures - shapes to be exact. The oldest known human cave drawings depict ovals with lines jutting from the bottom and a smaller oval with lines coming from the top attached to the larger oval. When we see these shapes we clearly understand the picture being painted and the idea being presented. We recognize these shapes to represent an antlered animal such as a deer or caribou. When we see shapes conjoined that look like a stick figure man throwing a spear at these animal representations, we understand the idea they meant to convey in telling the story of them hunting these animals. These shapes were our first attempt at language and writing. There were undoubtedly sounds associated with these pictures and we imagine the leaders of these tribal cave dwellers drawing these shapes and conveying a linguistic story to accompany this early artistic writing to their followers. The hunters of the tribe victorious in their hunt was a reason to celebrate because it meant the tribe would eat and survive - it marked their place as being fit to survive in this world and they meant to record that victory to stand as a testament to that victory.
It took us a good while to move past shapes and simple pictures into what we now call language and writing.
The cuneiform and pictographs of the Babylonians, Sumerians, and Egyptians stood as the most advanced form of writing humans developed for well over 2,000 years and is still considered a marvel of human innovation. But even with that innovation, word of mouth continued to be the most common means of recording our past and because of this we have no true way of validating the assertions made through these word of mouth tales. The stories of the Old Testament, of Moses and Abraham and their descendants is all based on an oral history that was written down some great many generations after the supposed acts they tell of. The New Testament, while not taking as long to be written down, still offers well over a 40 year gap between the supposed acts and a written record of those acts. The Quran was supposedly dictated to an illiterate madman in a cave by an angel. In each of these instances, the followers of these religions have invested great stock in the words of other men and the promises that those words offer. They are willing to sacrifice their integrity and their pride all for the sake of words and the unsubstantiated claims those words present. They are willing to kill over these words - or die in supposed defense of them. But very few are willing to weigh those words against reality and see if they truly have merit - not just the words themselves, but the ideas those words represent.
And Now Here It Is - Your Moment of Zen
The point of this blog is to make the believer ask just how much stock they put in the words of their given doctrine, but there's one more aspect of language and writing I'd like to address. The thing about words is that they're open to interpretation and can have a lot of meanings depending on how we use them and how we choose to interpret them. So I'll leave you with a bit of linguistic comedy that really illustrates my point on just how versatile and confusing language can be.
Perhaps one of the most interesting words in the English language today, is the word fuck. Of all the English words beginning with f, fuck is the single one referred to as the "f-word." It's the one magical word. Just by it's sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love. Fuck, as most of the other words in English, has arrived from Germany. Fuck is from German's "fliechen," which means “to strike.” In English, “fuck” folds into many grammatical categories. As a transitive verb for instance, "John fucked Shirley.” As an intransitive verb; "Shirley fucks." It's meaning is not always sexual. It can be used as an adjective such as; John's doing all the fucking work; as part of an adverb; "Shirley talks too fucking much;" as an adverb enhancing an adjective, “Shirley is fucking beautiful;” as a noun, "I don't give a fuck;" as part of a word, "abso-fucking-lutely" or "in-fucking-credible." Or as almost every word in a sentence: "fuck the fucking fuckers!." As you must realize, there aren't many words with the versatility such as the word fuck, as in these examples used as the following words;
- fraud: "I got fucked"
- trouble: "I guess I'm really fucked now"
- dismay: "Oh, fuck it!"
- aggression: "don't fuck with me, buddy!"
- difficulty: "I don't understand this fucking question"
- inquiry: "who the fuck was that?"
- dissatisfaction: "I don't like what the fuck is going on here"
- incompetence: "he's a fuck-off!"
- dismissal: "why don't you go outside and fuck yourself?"
I'm sure you can think of many more examples.
With all these multipurpose applications, how can anyone be offended when you use the word?
Use this unique, flexible word more often in your daily speech. It will identify the quality of your character immediately. Say it loudly and proudly:
- Oddly enough, this piece of comedy has been attributed to Monty Python and Jack Wagner.... and I'm unsure which is true because I can't find a first hand account. Funny how that works out. ;)
Image by Polylerus (Moved from en:Image:Grawlixes.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons