Advance civilization from the inside out.
T H O U G H T  P R O V O C A T E U R S
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Language and Betrayal

Language itself, exchanged speech, is essentially covenant-making. In every exchange of speech we are implicitly contracting to tell the truth to one another, no matter what it is we are saying, whether trivial or profound. Every spoken message is silently prefaced by a mutual oath: "I agree to tell you the truth, and you agree to tell me the truth. We can trust the other not to deceive."

Of course sometimes we do deceive, and when we do, we have broken covenant. We have defrauded. We have breached an oath, betrayed the one to whom we lied. In fact, can't we say that we have committed the terrible sin of causing someone to live in a world of delusion to the extent they built their picture of reality on the sand we supplied them? They went on to take certain steps they would not have taken had they known what was really the truth. You told them you loved them, but you didn't. And the radiant sun that began to shine in their soul will be extinguished like a candle in the rain when they find out the truth.

I thought I could count on you, but you didn't mean it, and now that you have become part of the defense perimeter of my life, I am seriously vulnerable without knowing it. Thanks a lot!

You may not think a lie matters if, say, no one is betrayed. But every lie is a betrayal, a snapping of a covenant bond. Every lie inflates language. It is, like American currency, worth less and less. We have to start buttressing what we say with "I swear!" "I promise!" "You have my word on it!" All these statements are tacit admissions that without the oath to restrict you, you could be expected to lie and cheat.

Isn't that why Jesus counsels you to be the sort of person from whom no one would think to require an oath? "Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Any more than this comes from the Evil One." We must bring language back to its original status as a covenant we can trust each other to keep.

Robert M. Price




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