Catchwords and Slogans

Rhetoric is empty, nonsensical and completely useless when it is void of logic and proper definitions of words, common sense and critical thinking. Even worse, rhetoric is dangerous when it is void of truth and is disconnected from steadfast love, justice and righteousness. It is easy to repeat rhetoric that has been fragmented and reduced to catchwords and slogans. This is why it is imperative that we take the time to closely examine our words before we (Christians) use them to avoid speaking idle words and to ensure we (Americans) are not using them to deflect, defend, disassociate or deny truth, replace logic and avoid our responsibility to look at our modern world, our current issues and the pain, injustice and the results of our anti-neighborly systems and structures.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in prison under the Nazi regime, he wrote about the use of “slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession” of man and makes “one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person.” Bonhoeffer goes on to say that this person speaking in slogans and catchwords “is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool,… will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived and died because millions of people had become mindless tools for a political regime. In fact, he became one of the end results of what happens when individual people refuse the responsibility to think for themselves and for their neighbors, and simply regurgitate rhetoric that is void of steadfast love, justice and righteousness. Walter Bruggeman calls this (steadfast love, justice and righteousness) the triad of fidelity that stands in contradiction to the “American way” of individualism, totalism, autonomy and absolutism.

In 1982, Neil Postman describes how we have all been conformed to this American way of thinking that is trivial, superficial and without imagination. He writes in Amusing ourselves to death, “In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different roder from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us. What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB.

Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”

With Bonhoeffer and Postman in mind- I bring us to today’s slogan that simply say “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and another which simply blames gun violence on sin. While I don’t completely disagree with the these statements, I do not believe they are complete statements because they are void of love, compassion and empathy, and they stand in contradiction to the logic being used by the same people to justify their positions on abortions, drugs and even drinking and driving- just to name 3 topics.

If we take these 2 slogans being used to justify the free and unfettered access to guns, then I have to ask…If you really do believe that guns don’t kill people but people kill people, then would this same logic stand true for abortions, drugs and drinking and driving. Consequently, since these things don’t kill people, why would we need to shut down abortion clinics, make any drug illegal or pass laws against drinking and driving? Wouldn’t the same logic that says guns don’t kill people, be used to retort “Abortions don’t kill people, drugs don’t kill people and drinking and driving doesn’t kill people.” Furthermore, giving us no logical reason to make these things illegal?

In addition, if murder is a sin problem but not a gun problem, then why are we sending so many people to prison who have murdered, used drugs, stolen and drown while intoxicated and not just putting them in a Bible study? Clearly, there would be no need to lock people up for sin, when we could just lead them to Jesus and offer them forgiveness. No doubt, we could save a whole lot of money buying Bibles instead of building more and more prisons.

“the world we live in is very nearly incomprehensible to most of us. There is almost no fact, whether actual or imagined, that will surprise us for very long, since we have no comprehensive and consistent picture of the world that would make the fact appear as an unacceptable contradiction. We believe because there is no reason not to believe.”

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

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