I’m increasingly sensitive to pious clichés. Without the appropriate referent, many common phrases are blasphemous.
“Love is all you need.”
“I believe in the power of prayer.”
Richard Niehbuhr in his book, Christ and Culture, comments on the many strains of Christianity that unevenly emphasize one truth about Christ. For instance, some Christians emphasize the love of Jesus (which is absolutely true), but in an extremism, lift the ideal of love above even Christ himself. He writes, “The virtue of love in Jesus’ character and demand is the virtue of the love of God and of the neighbor in God, not the virtue of the love of love.”
Popular clichés carry an element of truth, but have a tendency to express an extremism or a half-truth. “Love is all you need” may convey a generic, fluffy-puppy affection unless it finds its origin in the Source of all love. “Just believe” can infer belief in the human spirit, a work ethic, or Santa Clause. “The power of prayer” might mean that I possess access to some power source (like a genie’s bottle). If I just prayer for the right duration, the right words, or with enough sweat and tears, I can tap into the power source. By contrast, I don’t believe in the power of prayer, but the power of the One I pray to.
With the proper subject, verbs and nouns become endowed with truthful meaning. Without the proper subject, pious clichés become half-truths, if not blasphemous. Choose your words carefully.
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