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Posted: 31 March 2009 06:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Occam,

So you refuse to be told by us that the word isn’t appropriate in your context, but we’re supposed to accept it is because Webster’s Dictionary says so? To claim that any use you care to make of a word is fair game and that no confusion could legitimately be expected to result so long as at least one of the dictionary definitions could be read as encompassing your usage seems pretty shakey reasoning.

Why do you think the postmodernists and vehemently religious like labeling science “just another religion” and labeling our belief without direct personal evidence another kind of “faith?” I’m suspecting that it’s because this seems like a good way to undercut the claims of science for objectivity and epistemelogical superiority because “faith” implies belief of the self-justifying kind Doug and I are referring to. You may mean the word differently, but the issue isn’t what you eman to say, it’s what you will be perceived as saying, and Webster’s doesn’t convince me that you’re not going to be contributing to the confusion by using the word as you do.

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Posted: 31 March 2009 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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In fighting is not a good thing, either.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 31 March 2009 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Mriana - 31 March 2009 07:29 PM

In fighting is not a good thing, either.

In itself, no, but there are widely divergent views among us. The passion displayed in addressing these questions suggests that something is going on that is far more than the obvious. I have noticed an intense emotional reaction against using certain words that are seen as traditionally religious in any other way. If there was an openness on both sides, the exchange of divergent views would lead to productive change.

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Posted: 31 March 2009 09:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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For one, I don’t object to words solely bcause of their use in a religious context, and I didn’t mean to give that impression. Tom Flynn recently ranted in Free Inquiry against the use of the word “spiritual,” and I found his opposition to it excessive. I do think, however, that to communicate effectively we have to have a realistic grasp of the nuances and range of meaning inherent in a given word, and try to avoid creating confusion by insisting on a narrow or idiosyncratic use of a word that diminishes clarity and message.

On this site, I’ve disagreed with Satanists who felt the name they’ve chosen for their group does not automatically call up images of devil worship because they choose to mean something else by it; with Paul who uses an etymylogical argument to justify using “religion” in a way that makes no reference to the supernatural and which I doubt most Americans would recognize; and with Occam who frequently sites dictionary definitions as if the meaning of words could be fixed and codified like the basic laws of mathematics or chemistry and the “real” meaning proven by reference to such a source. All of these seem to me to misunderstand the basic principles of semantics and how meaning is constructed within a language community. The first two do so in defense of a specific ideological position, which seems to me to be trying to re-apropriate the meaning of words to serve ideological ends. I disgree with the idea that deep philosophical disagreements ultimately only amount to problems of language, and I don’t enjoy arguing about words for its own sake. But I do believe that effective communication is impeded by misapprehensions about how semantic meaning is constructed and how it can or canot be manipulated. These seem important tactical issues for us as a community, though I don’t think they necessarily represent insurmountable ideological divides.

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Posted: 31 March 2009 10:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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IMHO, I think there are some words we can reclaim and redefine, but such a dispute seems as silly as gay/happy or gay/homosexual, or even Man/human or man/man.  The older generation may use gay as in happy and Man for human.  Or how about this one- bitch as in female dog v bitch as in demeaning remarks.  A person who works with animals uses and means the word for a female dog and one who is angry uses it derogatorily.  There there is a cute little pussy cat.  I don’t mean it derogatorily, I’m talking about furry creatures.  Consider the person and where they are coming from too.

Occam has his own thoughts, just like everyone else, even if he is an admitted old man or whatever.  He probably still uses gay for happy, for all I know, because Webster said so.  I’ll take it on blind faith that he probably does.  LOL  See, the word can be used without religious intent.  I could have said, “I’ll just trust that he does” or something like that.  (Not making fun, Occam, just taking your rant concerning the word “faith”, using you as an example, and creatively playing with words at the same time.  smile  )

Admittedly, I use the word spiritual, but not in a religious connotation.  Rather in relationship to my feelings concerning nature and I don’t care what Tom Flynn says about using the word or not.  He does not dictate my use or anyone else’s use of the English language.  I use the word numinous (Webster’s definition #3) and transcendent feelings, esp when referring to the psychological feelings.  I really think this is a case of each his own and how one chooses to use the words or not use them at all.  There are some religious words I will not use at all- like sin, sinful, and other words that just cannot be define any other way except religious.  However, I think if we limit the words we use too much then we will be in search for new words that in essence mean the same thing or we just won’t have a word to describe what we are talking about and to me that is limiting and almost smothering.  I for one have to be able to use the English language in whatever manner I need- creatively or or otherwise.

[ Edited: 31 March 2009 10:37 PM by Mriana ]
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Posted: 01 April 2009 03:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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`

this is an interesting conversation…......the whole issue of ‘claiming’ words and/or one side telling the other what definitions are the ‘correct’ ones…...

the other night, i engaged in a migraine-inducing discussion (with some theists and agnostics) about what the word ‘atheism’ means.

*cracking some more aspirin*

`

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Posted: 01 April 2009 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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I am a deeply religious person. Everything that is real is part of my religion. There is no separation between my life and my religion, and no moment (that I’m proud of) when I’m not living my religion. This has nothing to do with the supernatural. One may call that idiosyncratic, but I disagree. For me it is entirely real. I am not alone in this view. This is what religion would be, or might be, if it hadn’t become encased in supernaturalism and irresponsible wish fulfillment. One who chooses not to see it that way will not be able to see things from this perspective. That it is a choice, but if you do it, it will limit you. I strongly believe that the secular community is missing a golden opportunity by shutting this out, even if individual secularists choose not to pursue that path.

I am a born-again Humanist. This occurred at 8:30 p.m. on January 16, 1997, when, in one of those rare moments of epiphany, I learned to see Faith as an action instead of as a belief. I had a Faith experience. One who insists that it cannot be seen in this way cannot know what I know; it changed my life. So when someone tells me that faith is always and exclusively a belief without evidence, I know better than that because I have experienced it; and if there is one thing that you will never talk someone out of, it is the reality of their experience. Moreover, telling someone that their experience isn’t real, or isn’t meaningful, is profoundly arrogant. We do a lot of this, which is one reason people don’t like us. Each person’s experience, and the meaning the person attaches to that experience, is internal and his/her own; no one has any business telling someone else that it’s not real. What we can do, appropriately, is question whether the person is interpreting the experience correctly as it relates to things outside their direct experience, e.g., “I had a dream about Jesus” isn’t evidence that Jesus exists. I am as a much a secularist as anyone here, but there’s something that I’m getting that some others aren’t getting. I can tell you that, and you can think me arrogant for thinking it - only I don’t just think it, I know it from how certain things are being expressed.

Life is a series of choices. That includes langauge. We can insist that language be used conventionally at all times, or we can use language creatively. I choose to use language creatively to convey my ideas - to put the thoughts and images in my mind into the minds of others in the best way that I can. A traditional approach isn’t necessarily the best way to do that. Sometimes I want to create a little confusion in another person’s mind, because I want that person to think about something a little differently than she/he has before. When I use religion to refer to everything that brings life together into a coherent whole, I am challenging my listener to see it not as a belief in a god but as the human quest for meaning, purpose and direction; that is a thoroughly mainstream use of the term. I’m challenging one assumption: that religion must be about a god.

If I write or speak but my meaning is not understood, then to that extent language has failed. If I call what I’m doing anything but religion, then I’m not being honest. mckenzie, I don’t have a choice here. This is the word I must use to describe what’s going on. No other word is adequate; and this word is fully adequate. I think it’s good strategy, but strategy isn’t the main reason I do it. I do it because this is what it is.

I believe that some of our language traditionalists, like mckenzie, are making a fundamental mistake in assuming that the only good use of language is to serve the traditional, and another mistake in assuming that uses of language that don’t upset any assumptions are the best uses. I wouldn’t expect that from a fellow secularist/rationalist. We are people who question things and challenge assumptions, so why can’t we challenge this one? A word like Faith or religion or spiritual or soul, or even God, can be used in a way that defies tradition. And if we can use these words to question theistic and supernaturalist assumptions, why not do it? It’s like a variation on a musical theme. Change something here, or there, and you have something new. Your listener now has a new experience, a new way of looking at the music.

The success of the endeavor resides in the communicator’s ability to express himself and in the receiver’s openness and ability to hear what the communicator is saying. I think mckenzie and many other secularists are not being open, and that’s a mistake.

[ Edited: 01 April 2009 05:21 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 01 April 2009 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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mckenzievmd - 31 March 2009 06:59 PM

Occam,

Why do you think the postmodernists and vehemently religious like labeling science “just another religion” and labeling our belief without direct personal evidence another kind of “faith?” I’m suspecting that it’s because this seems like a good way to undercut the claims of science for objectivity and epistemelogical superiority because “faith” implies belief of the self-justifying kind Doug and I are referring to.

Right: they have an agenda they’re trying to promote. The obfuscations of others should not detract us from taking a principled stand.

mckenzievmd - 31 March 2009 06:59 PM

You may mean the word differently, but the issue isn’t what you eman to say, it’s what you will be perceived as saying, and Webster’s doesn’t convince me that you’re not going to be contributing to the confusion by using the word as you do.

That is a reason many people give for not acknowledging that they don’t believe in a god. When someone says that she doesn’t believe in a god, that’s often heard as having no values, worshiping Satan, etc. How we are received is important but we shouldn’t refrain from saying what we mean just because we’ll have to spend some time and effort making ourselves heard.

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Posted: 01 April 2009 07:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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LOL  That was very good and very creative, PLaClair.  smile  I don’t know if I would have used all the words you used, at least not outside of creative writing, but that was still very creative.

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Posted: 01 April 2009 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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I believe that some of our language traditionalists, like mckenzie, are making a fundamental mistake in assuming that the only good use of language is to serve the traditional, and another mistake in assuming that uses of language that don’t upset any assumptions are the best uses.

Paul, if this is what you see as my position, then we have truly failed to communicate. I am not a “traditionalist,” whatever that means. I am, insofar as any label is appropriate, a “descriptivist” as opposed to a “prescriptivist.” I see the meaning of words as a fluid and ever-changing product of consensus within a language community.

What I am objecting to are 1) statements that words can be fixed by fiat, as in a dictionary definition, and then used without respect to how those words have changed in meaning of connotation in the larger community or 2) the idea that the meaning of words can be deliberately remade by individuals, again by fiat and without respect to the usage of the larger community. I don’t object in any way to novel or creative uses, but I do think it is posisble to communicate with a lack of clarity if one is determined to claim a certain usage that others will not understand. It is sometimes possible for groups of people to nudge the general understanding of a word in their preferred direction by deliberate idiosyncratic usage, but I think it fails more often than it succeeds.

You are, of course, free to use whatever words you feel best express your meaning. I’m not telling you how to speak. But I don’t think it’s correct to say that an atypical usage is the “right” or “true” meaning of a word based on ideolgy or etymology or deep personal feeling, as I have seen you do with “religion.” And I don’t think, given our disagreement over the significance of such a word in the wider language community, that it is correct for you to continually tell the rest of us secularists that we ought to be following your example in trying to wrest religious language from the supernaturalist community or we are doomed to failure as a movement. The arrogance of implying that disagreement amounts to not being “open” does sound like the tone of religion or faith, in the perjorative sense those words often have among this community, and I object to this assumption. You seem to have a clear vision of what you think secularists need to do to move forward in the culture as a movement, and I think there are elements of that vision we agree on and others we disagree on. But you also seem to feel your vision is the only vision, so the issue of “openess” cuts both ways here.

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Posted: 01 April 2009 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Quoting Brennen:

So you refuse to be told by us that the word isn’t appropriate in your context, but we’re supposed to accept it is because Webster’s Dictionary says so?

I don’t believe I suggested that I “refused to be told”.  You can tell me anything you want to, but If I disagree I won’t sit quietly and accept what I feel is your error.  I don’t ask you to accept it, just to recognize that my use of the word, even if it doesn’t agree with the definition in your mind was not incorrect as you seemed to claim.

To claim that any use you care to make of a word is fair game and that no confusion could legitimately be expected to result so long as at least one of the dictionary definitions could be read as encompassing your usage seems pretty shakey reasoning.

Really???  Arguing that use of a word within the scope of a commonly accepted definition (that’s what the dictionary is) can be an error as you seem to indicate, seems not just “pretty” but extremely shaky reasoning.

Why do you think the postmodernists and vehemently religious like labeling science “just another religion” and labeling our belief without direct personal evidence another kind of “faith?“ I’m suspecting that it’s because this seems like a good way to undercut the claims of science for objectivity and epistemelogical superiority because “faith” implies belief of the self-justifying kind Doug and I are referring to. You may mean the word differently, but the issue isn’t what you eman to say, it’s what you will be perceived as saying, and Webster’s doesn’t convince me that you’re not going to be contributing to the confusion by using the word as you do.

I’m not going to avoid using words just because you feel they are not politically correct within the framework of some silly philosophy like post-modernism.

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Posted: 01 April 2009 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Quoting Brennen:

I do think, however, that to communicate effectively we have to have a realistic grasp of the nuances and range of meaning inherent in a given word, and try to avoid creating confusion by insisting on a narrow or idiosyncratic use of a word that diminishes clarity and message.

Oh, I didn’t realize the dictionary was narrow and idiosyncratic.  It seems that one who claims that may have his own narrow and idiosyncratic set of meanings.  If we hope to communicate, we just realize that we may use words differently and compensate for that in our own minds, not demand that everyone intuit your limits of meaning for words and use them only in that way.

On this site, I’ve disagreed with . . . Occam who frequently sites dictionary definitions as if the meaning of words could be fixed and codified like the basic laws of mathematics or chemistry and the “real” meaning proven by reference to such a source.

Ah, the Alice in Wonderland defense - “No it is not a matter of the meaning of the word.  It is who is to be master, me or the word.”  Dictionaries are not law but rather a collection of common agreements.  It beccomes more difficult to communicate as someone wants to change the meanings of words from the commonly agreed upon ones to those he internally defines.

All of these seem to me to misunderstand the basic principles of semantics and how meaning is constructed within a language community. . .  I do believe that effective communication is impeded by misapprehensions about how semantic meaning is constructed and how it can or canot be manipulated.

I certainly agree with this. The problem is, which party is guilty of this? smile

Occam

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Posted: 01 April 2009 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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I’m not going to avoid using words just because you feel they are not politically correct within the framework of some silly philosophy like post-modernism.

Boy did you miss my point here! I’m not arguing a postmodernist political correctness at all. I’m arguing that postmodernists use words like “faith” to challenge the objectivity of science because the word has connotations of belief despite evidence. Using the word to describe how scientists think plays into their hands because that is how many people will understand the word. As you yourself pointed out, several of the dictionary definitions referred to this usage, so it is clearly part of the “common agreement” regarding the meaning of the word. My disagreement with you is simply whether the fact that you can find a subsidiary definition in a dictionary to support your usage means that you are not risking confusion in using the word the way you do. I think you clearly are risking it.

You seem to have gotten your knickers in a twist over my telling you what to say and how to say it, so let me point out yet again that I’m not telling anybody how to talk. I’m disagreeing with your assertion that your use of the word is appropriate and clear, and with your belief that finding a compatible defintion in a dictionary somewhere somehow proves your use clear and without risk of unintended consequences. Why this pisses you off so much I really don’t see.

Oh, I didn’t realize the dictionary was narrow and idiosyncratic.  It seems that one who claims that may have his own narrow and idiosyncratic set of meanings. 

“Idiosyncratic” referred to the other examples I gave. “Narrow” certainly applies to your use of faith, which you seem to think you can effectively strip of its religious overtones by finding a subset of the dictionary definition that supports your usage and ignoring the rest of the definition and how the word is actually used. Dictionaries are useful records of how words have been used, but they are hardly the definitive last word for all time. A better strategy for deciding the current set of meanings for a word would probably be a survey of public discourse, but that would have a lot of techical difficulties.


I can go to my OED and find dictionary definitions that are completely obsolete and imcomprehensible to modern speakers, supported by qutations from centuries ago. Does that mean I can comfortably use the words in those ways and be surprised and offended when someone suggests I might be misunderstood? Nonsense!

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Posted: 01 April 2009 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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mckenzie, the uses I make of these words are neither idiosyncratic nor atypical.

And my point is that if any of us can’t use these words, then that’s one tool that individual doesn’t have in his toolbox. If as a group we shy away from these words, then we’re shying away from a considerable amount of human experience, much of which is worthwhile and even uplifting. If as a group we make these words taboo, then we’re shutting out a considerable amount of human experience and human contact.

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Posted: 01 April 2009 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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*sigh*
Paul,
Of course we’re never going to agree about your use of “religion,” and whether it is atypical as I believe or not. And as you should know from my posts above, I’m not a prescriptivist so I don’t believe there is any objective reference we can use to prove the issue one way or another. The closest thing to this would be a scientific survey of native English speaker opinions on the issue, which I’m certainly in no position to do even if it is technically feasible, which I doubt. I think the resistance you get to your usage within the secular community is itself a reflection of the word containing indelible meanings you do not intend, not just a measure of the reflexive closed-mindeness of the community. But as we’ve said so often before, we surely agree far more than we disagree, so I by no means intend to say that you “can’t” use the word any way that seems appropriate to you. I will, for the benefit of others following the conversation, routinely put my 2 cents in about why I don’t support the usage, but that just means we’re a diverse community with diverse approaches, as it should be.

And I still feel that there is nothing in my approach to this language that denies anything about the human experience. I find many eloquent, moving depictions of individual and general human experience that speak to the feelings you refer to and that do so effectively without terms like “religion” and “born-again.” If those work for you, great, and I’m not trying to deny them to you. But if they don’t work for me, you’re wrong to imply that this impoverishes my experiences or my communication.

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