In the beginning, there was thought. As time went on, thought desired to communicate itself from one mind to another and language gradually developed: at first, perhaps, only simple sounds and gestures. Later, complex phrases and written alphabets evolved, until at last thought appeared finely clothed in words reflecting the fashion of the day. Speech and dialects from other centuries may seem as quaint or outmoded now as the clothing of another era. Ideas are often opaque to a modern reader when clothed in archaic language; unless the contemporary reader perceives the underlying thought cloaked in old garments, he may laugh at the peculiar outfit a thought is wearing and offer it no deeper scrutiny.
While language allows thought to expand outwards and interact through communication, it may also enable "confusion of tongues" and stagnation of thought as language becomes corrupt through propagandistic or political usage. New words and expressions evolve to liberate or rejuvenate essential concepts and ideas, as outworn terms and phrases fall into disuse - language continually renews and repairs itself in true free market style. Govbugs may excel at printing out bits of rag-paper and passing it off as money, but when it comes to coining phrases "we the people" retain power - government forgets that at its own risk.
Language may ultimately be the anarchist's most reliable tool - in no realm of human life does the authoritarian's endeavor seem more futile. Self-anointed and "popularly elected" control freaks may tap phones, scan email communications, bug offices and residences, plant spyware on computers, and generally annoy people to the ends of the earth - but the more they bug people, the madder people are likely to get. The more determined Boobus bureaucraticus' efforts are to transform productive and peaceful honeybee societies into swarms of angry hornets, the more buzz they're likely to intercept, the more often they'll get stung in the process, and the more vinegar they'll collect casting their grasping paws about in pursuit of honey-pots. My long-term outlook on government is, appropriately, bearish.
I've read that "naming" a thing may provide the name-giver power over the thing named; or an ability to own, summon, or define it, perhaps. That seems inaccurate to me. What the name does convey to the name-giver is not precisely power, but knowledge; and that knowledge may be true or false. A man who knew the earth was flat centuries ago may have possessed mistaken knowledge, but his mistaken knowledge empowered him with a sense of certainty. Anyone wishing to dispute him would have had to disprove his notion that the earth was flat; and it's difficult to prove to a person anything that he wishes not to believe.
That sort of name-giving power may enable a person to believe that war is peace, or that slavery is freedom, and argue his point if presented with conflicting evidence; it confines his field of perception within fortress walls erected by belief in the names he has assigned to things or the designated qualities he ascribes to them. In a real sense, perhaps his earth is flat because he perceives it that way - his unwillingness to consider the earth otherwise entraps his imagination within parameters of "knowledge" which he accepts as "truth."
Naming a thing lends it a certain rigid status, and over-reliance on names or labels leads to a sort of intellectual rigor mortis. God seems the best example; people clash endlessly over God, because they know God by different names or may have constructed temples of semantics around God, weaving in local and cultural traditions. I hope non-believing readers will tolerate my leaning on God as an example, and believing readers will forgive my doing so: I wish to illustrate how linguistic differences, and particularly an insistence on names, can give rise to superficial conflicts and inhibit understanding between people.
When God revealed himself to Moses as "I am who I am," God chose a name that defied indirect usage or reference. Various historical traditions have held God to be nameless and referred to God or the divine by honorific terms or titles, or combinations of letters such as JHVH, AUM, or IAO. I find God's commandment "Thou shalt not take my name in vain" particularly interesting: I suspect its meaning may be more straightforward than the usual interpretations of refraining from speaking falsely in God's name or cursing, as I've understood those -- just a simple admonishment to avoid speaking of God by "name."
How many terrible bloody conflicts might have been avoided - and might yet be - if only people would refrain from presuming to know the will of God, setting out to do battle in God's name, or to work God's will forcibly on others. God and government are opposing concepts of ultimate authority - one reigns over man by virtue of a personal relationship with man and exerts authority from within that is consistent with individual liberty, while the other exerts authority over man by forceful domination from without and is inimical to individual liberty, operating under the theory that individuals are incapable of self government. For that reason, I consider belittling people's religious or spiritual beliefs a highly counterproductive tactic for freedom lovers. In many ways, God - as an idea, and as an inspirer of worship - may be the strongest bulwark man has against government by external forms of authority, and the Achilles heel of those who presume to usurp divine authority over men while almost inevitably proclaiming faith in God.
In speaking of God "by name" one presumes knowledge of God likely to constrict one's perceptions of God. If God's nature was to be expansive, the speaker - in assigning God a name - has assigned God a prison or temple incapable of containing an all-embracing or expansive concept of God. If God does exist, it seems reasonable to speculate that he's written himself a "get out of jail free" card, so the person who chooses to build a jail for God appears likely to be guarding an empty temple. Unfortunately, human history often seems to be a detailed record of much bloodshed over vacant temples, with insufficient awareness raised regarding the causes of overflowing jails. Men's laws fill prisons.
If God created even the simplest things in nature, such as snowflakes, so that no two are precisely alike and each is unique and individual, how much more natural it seems that no two humans or their conceptions of God should be identical. Orthodoxy strikes me as a strictly human invention; man seems ever preoccupied with devices of his own creation, intent on treating God as a form of intellectual property. I'd say chances seem greater of encountering God on the unemployment line than at the patent office; it takes a great deal of faith in one's creation to allow it freedom. I prefer the man created in God's image to the God created in man's image, as I prefer being a human individual to being a stamped, numbered, and properly integrated product of collectivized society. In order to be free, it is necessary to grant others freedom - should God be held captive to men's desires?
Politics and religion, and the ceaseless conflicts that arise from them, demonstrate the power of the word - written or spoken - to entrap people's hearts and minds, as well as to liberate and enlighten humanity. Like any tool, names and labels can be constructively employed or destructively deployed. If God exists, perhaps it behooves mortal believers to handle God's one or many names with loving care.
I'm skeptical of a God who apparently requires a leash and papers and barks for a Sunday walk about the neighborhood, or seems eager to mark territory. God is who God is, and that's okay with me; no names need apply. God doesn't put me on a leash or ask for my papers… it takes a government to do that sort of thing. God's got my vote, in case God has any interest in it - which I doubt. Perhaps God already holds office where it matters to God - in the hearts of those who let God be "I AM WHO I AM;" and who let God be the one to lord it over anyone else.
published at Endervidualism on 4/7/05