Of late my computer has been helping me out with my spelling rather a lot. In particular, whenever I try to write to someone about “prosphora”, it assumes I meant to type “phosphate” and autocorrects me as a type. If I am not careful, I end up asking my parishioners by email if the phosphate will be ready for the Liturgy next week, which they might well find confusing and evidence that my liturgical practice is getting somewhat odd. No, thank you, I did not mean “phosphate”. I meant “prosphora”.
It occurs to me that the World tries to auto-correct us Christians in rather the same way. Take for example the phrase “the promotion of homosexual views”. Whenever one tries to speak of someone promoting homosexual views, our culture’s auto-corrects kicks in. “‘Promotion of homosexual views’? What? Surely you meant ‘gay rights’?” Or take the example of the debate surrounding the moral legitimacy of abortion. At least up here in Canada, if one says that someone is “pro-abortion”, one is instantly auto-corrected. “‘Pro-abortion’? ‘Pro-abortion’? What? Surely you meant ‘pro-choice’?”
It does not matter that the term “pro-choice” really makes no sense. For think about it: choice is not the moral issue under debate, however much its proponents may protest that it is. If a pregnant woman says, “I am pro-choice; I am just choosing to have my baby because I think it would be morally wrong to kill it”, the pro-choice people are not amused. Obviously everyone has a choice. Choice is not the issue. The moral issue being debated is whether or not the choice to kill the baby in utero is a murderous one or not. The issue is not choice; the issue is abortion. Denying this bit of reality is part of the shell game played by those defending abortion’s moral legitimacy. I acknowledge that they genuinely believe that the choice to abort is always a tragic one. In return I ask that they acknowledge that the issue centers not around choice but around abortion, and that our cultural reluctance to use the a-word is rooted in its reluctance to face up to the horror of what is actually being done. Choice is good; killing a baby is bad. The cultural auto-correct of “pro-abortion” to “pro-choice” reflects the refusal to culturally acknowledge this.
Our increasingly secularized West uses the auto-correct more and more all the time. We used to speak of “political correctness” as an influence. Now it has become a way of life. One may ask, of course, why any of this matters. So what if the police of political correctness determine what language may be used? What’s the problem with that? The problem is that the type of language one uses often predetermines the result of the debate in advance. Take the above example of “gay rights”. No one in North America wants to deny anyone their rights. Such a thing smacks of the intolerance and oppression that characterized the racist opposition to integration in the 1960s. Rights are good. Everyone has them, and no one should deny them. By framing the debate over the moral rectitude of homosexual acts as a debate over rights and using the magic phrase “gay rights”, the advocates of homosexual lifestyle have predetermined the outcome of the debate before it ever gets under way. Cultural intimidation thus replaces real debate. Sustained thought and long debate are difficult—too difficult, I suspect, for most people. It is much easier to have one’s views formed not from sustained and thoughtful debate, but from the generalized use of magic phrases. There are, of course, thoughtful people who have debated the issue in a sustained way and come to the conclusion that homosexual life-style is morally acceptable. But it seems to me that most of the people commenting on blogs and on Facebook are not among them. Most people are led about by magic phrases and by what is culturally ascendant.
But none of this is new. As far back as St. Paul, the World had a way of pushing us Christians into positions of moral compromise. That is why the New Testament is replete with warnings not to become worldly. “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” says St. John (1 John 2:15). “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould,” says St. Paul (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation). “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God,” says St. James (James 4:4). Whichever page of the New Testament one opens, the message is consistently the same: we must be in the world, but not of it. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mould. Don’t let the world auto-correct you. Say exactly what you mean and what reflects the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), whether it is politically correct or not.
I have found that the auto-corrections my computer makes are repeated and determined. I had to type “prosphora” several times before my autocorrect function would accept it and leave me alone. And we may have to repeat ourselves several times in the face of opposition from the world. But that is okay. We Orthodox are used to having to say things more than once. Remember our baptism? We renounced the devil not once, but three times. We united ourselves to Christ not once, but three times. It is a test of our determination. For when we insist on saying something over and over again, it is because we are sure it is true.