Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Laughing Matter

The latest issue of a prominent Christian magazine includes a cartoon in which a self-satisfied man stands next to a wall with a no-smoking sign. He’s saying to his companion, “Don’t forget: we Christians were intolerant of smokers years before it caught on with the rest of society!”

I’m not sure what the editors’ purpose was in including this cartoon. Were they lampooning smug Christians who highlight their long-standing tobacco prohibition as a badge of honor, now vindicated? If so, the lampoon falls flat. I don’t see the point of making fun of someone who’s been right all along about a major social issue, regardless of his or her attitude. Would that more people would be right about such issues, despite popular trends!

I grew up as the son of a minister and college professor in a major Protestant denomination. Our church circles weren’t evangelical, by any means. In fact we belonged to the “modernist” wing. But there was a residue of piety in our ecclesiastical environment that ruled out the use of tobacco and, for that matter, alcohol. During my preteen and earlier teen years we didn’t even know people who smoked or drank. My parents wouldn’t patronize a restaurant where alcohol was served.

Once my brother and I found a pack of cigarettes someone had dropped on the sidewalk. My mother let us go upstairs in our garage and smoke the stale things, just to see what they were like. That was the end of it. And, through the years, my use of alcohol has been pretty much limited to receiving Holy Communion in liturgical churches, or perhaps sharing half a glass of wine with my wife once a year at an Italian restaurant.

These habits — or the lack thereof — go back to my childhood in that non-evangelical denomination where, at least, we got a few things right about healthy living. That was the 1950s, and that denomination has since moved even further away from Bible-believing faith. I’ve changed denominations since then, seeking an evangelical environment where our tithe money didn’t go to support Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. But the old no-smoking, no-drinking life style stays with me.

You can lampoon that no-smoking, no-drinking mentality if you want to, and call it hypocritical because it overlooks some other important issues. But that’s a shallow response. I remember debates in college where the question of hypocrisy came up in relation to these strictures. Somebody finally pointed out that few people are killed by drivers who are hypocrites, compared with those who die at the hand of drivers who drink. As for the harm that comes from the use of tobacco — you may not smoke yourself, but when you pay your taxes or your medical insurance premiums you’re paying for the societal costs generated by those who do.

Make fun of blowhards who pat themselves on the back because of their intolerance of smoking? Go ahead, but I wouldn’t call it a laughing matter. Christians, evangelical and otherwise, got some things right a half-century ago.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The New Hitler Youth

During the Nazi era in Germany all young people were required to join either the Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend) for boys or its sister organization, the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher M├Ądel). Members of both groups were indoctrinated in the National Socialist belief system, including its anti-Semitism and the motivation to fight for the official "party line" of the Hitler movement. Even young Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), growing up in Bavaria, was forced to join the Hitler Youth although his parents were bitterly opposed to Nazi policies.

A year or so ago my wife and I were guests for "Grandparents' Day" at the elementary school attended by two of our grandchildren. In the classroom session our granddaughter's teacher enthusiastically presented a unit on environmentalism, laying out all the life-style changes that were supposed to be good for the earth and counter the effects of global warming. The study materials gave no consideration to the possibility that man-made climate change was only a scientifically questionable theory; the teacher listed all the things children should do to play their part in the environmentalist movement.

Then, recently, I was speaking with an older granddaughter who attends high school. In her mind, global warming is a reality brought about by malevolent human activity. I suggested that a cycle of solar warming could be the cause of temperature increases on the earth, not the factors usually cited by environmentalists. I referred to the finding that temperature increases have also been detected on Mars. Our granddaughter insisted that people were responsible for global warming on Mars as well; no logic I applied to this view could convince her otherwise, so thoroughly has she been brainwashed.

Indoctrination of our young people, on a par with that of the Hitler Youth, is a reality today in our public school system. The purpose of this indoctrination is to soften children, and through them their parents, to the efforts of a ruling elite to force life-style changes upon the entire population of our nation. Once people accept the theory that human activity is creating global warming, it's a short step to the control of all facets of our life by a small cadre of ideologues. Not only environmental behavior but social and personal activity of all types, including issues of sexuality, will come under their purview.

In short, our public education system has become the New Hitler Youth. One can only hope that the indoctrination it offers will be about as effective as some of the other things it tries to teach.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Common English Errors

Listening to people talk, reading online email or forum messages, and even checking out some web sites I notice several recurrent errors in English usage.

One of the most common errors is to insert an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun its, as in “She returned the item to it’s place.” The word it’s is a contraction for it is, but the proper form of the possessive pronoun is its, by analogy with his or hers (no apostrophe). Even some seasoned writers fail to make this connection.

A frequent mistake is to use lay in place of lie, as in “After supper I will lay down.” Lay is transitive; that is, it takes an object. You can lay something else down, but if you place yourself in a position of repose you lie down (intransitive). The confusion arises because lay is the past tense of lie, as in “Yesterday I lay down for a while.” The past tense of lay (transitive) is laid, as in “He laid the book on the table.”

Another error is to treat lead as a past-tense verb, as in “Then he lead me to the door.” The past tense of lead is led. “I will lead you now as I led you in the past.” The confusion no doubt arises from the pronunciation of lead as a name for a metal. (English is crazy, isn’t it?)

We often hear something like, “He was reticent to take that step.” The speaker meant, “He was reluctant,” that is, not eager to do something. The word reticent means to speak little, as in “She was reticent about her many accomplishments.”

Even news broadcasters and politicians commit a frequent speech error when they say something like, “The thing is, is she didn’t really say that.” There is no need for the repetition, is is. Do people not listen to themselves when they speak? If they did, they would recognize the redundancy. And they should recognize the error in “It was a good move for Michael and I.” Would one say, “a good move for I,” instead of “for me”?

How often have you heard something like, “So I brought him all his books and papers, eck-cetera,” taking the abbreviation etc. (Latin et cetera, “and the rest”) as though it were ect. or something similar. That brings up another error, the confusion of bring and take. We hear, “I’ll bring you over to Kristin’s house,” when the speaker is at Justin’s house. The speaker should have said, “I’ll take you over to Kristin’s house.” Only if the speaker were already at Kristin’s would she be correct to tell Justin, via telephone, “I’ll bring you over.” To bring means to transport someone, or something, from there to here. When transporting from here to there, the correct verb is take.

Another mistake is to assert that something is very unique. If a thing is unique it is, by definition, one of a kind, so there can’t be any degrees of uniqueness. It’s either unique, period, or it’s not unique at all.

My favorite overheard expression is, “It’s raining outside.” I’m tempted to say, “Thank goodness—it’s not raining inside.” Hopefully, all your rainstorms will deposit their precipitation on the exterior of your residence. If the situation is otherwise, call a roofer.

Monitor your speech and writing for these and other common errors. They can slip in when we’re not watching. As a friend of mine used to say, “Correct me if I’m not mistaken.”