Language, the essentially human in [humankind], can be abused in order to dehumanize [humanity]. The task of a theory of language in the most ambitious sense therefore consists of a defence of the humanity of language, for the sake of the language of humanity.
What we say sits right beside who and what we are. Our speaking does not take us away from the particularities of our life. Language is a central part of our being-with one another. It has two kinds of significance; we use language to communicate with one another in daily life. This is something of a ‘second-order’ kind of significance, since we (Wittgenstein and others notwithstanding) don’t spend that much time reflecting on the basic and fundamental structure of language. The other kind of significance I call ‘first-order’ because the feelings of discomfort that it evokes in others, is very acute. What I have in mind is expressions of pain. In the past few days, I’ve been thinking about crying in public. People do not know what to do with this. It’s considered a disruption of the dominant aesthetics in the public sphere. In other words, it’s an act that acknowledges that things have gone wrong. This expression of pain is a form of language that is rarely, if ever truly heard. The cries of Tina Fontaine’s mother and others like her, have been overlooked and simply ignored for as long as this country has existed. The screams and tears of those being bombed and losing loved ones in Gaza is drowned out by the sound of the next explosion. The agonized screaming of those who are exhausted by the non-value attached to black life, is silenced with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Throughout his work, Gerhard Ebeling makes reference to what he calls “the experience of the world”. For him this is essential for Christian faith. I think he is correct, and for this reason, I will use the term with reference to the experiences of those on the underside of various forms of violence and domination in the world (western cultural hegemony, patriarchy, state violence, etc.). As I said before, language is an important part of our being-with one another, and this involves pain and suffering. Going back to contemporary events, such as the turmoil in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown, and the recent murder of Tina Fontaine in my own city , I’m wondering what people have said in light of this? There has been screaming, lament, condemnation and prayer, among other things. With this in mind, I think Ebeling is right when he says that “Language contains within itself the whole fullness (and paradoxically this also includes the whole poverty) of the life and suffering of the human race”.
One of the problems in Christian communities of faith is the question of what must be said. Too often nothing is said, or a posture of (false) mediation is assumed. This is unacceptable. The debilitating force of settler colonialism and the non-value attached to black lives are not unspeakable evils; they are very speakable evils. The task at hand for those communities who choose silence, is to join those who are speaking the language of suffering. Ebeling is right when says that “If the language of faith ceases to be in dialogue with the experience of the world it has effectively become the language of unbelief”.
The church who is not engaged with the troubles of ‘undersid Continue reading