Of Pao, Language, and Freedom

Jack Vance published a book called The Languages Of Pao in 1958.

The story was an entrancing development of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: the idea that thought is controlled by the language one uses.  In Vance’s world, there were completely different, carefully crafted languages that you would learn based on caste: serfdom, mercantile, political and so on. These languages would aid the speaker in his own field, but would actually make it more difficult to transition to an unapproved field, because the language itself would inhibit excelling in realms where concepts were completely foreign to the language. Taken to the extreme, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis predicts that a man can only ponder and understand those things for which his language has words. Concept and critical thinking are therefore bound by language alone.

This concept has already been effectively used in criticism (or promotion!) of “political correctness.” It’s a ripe topic, but it’s not my focus today.

I want you to examine yourself. Think of the things you ought to do, as a born-again Christian. Things you must do to please your LORD. Things that are required of you.

“I must not wander into temptation.”

“I ought to increase my charitable giving.”

“I should not stare at the woman whose clothes are revealing.”

We have all done it. In fact, it’s part of our nature to take hold of “thus far and no farther” and clutch it to the breast.  But do we really understand the scope of God’s gift to us? Or might we be inhibiting our grasp of exactly what it means to be set free by the gospel?

Jesus told us: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But what kind of freedom is “Must”? “Ought to”? “Have to”? “Are required to”? Don’t we have something deeper than that?

Compare and contrast: “I can’t make your Christmas party. I have to go to Christmas Eve service.”  Or: “I will be missing your party, because I am now free to hear of the Word made flesh.” The latter is more awkward, more imposing, maybe even more confrontational. But it is also more correct.

Though we have been set free, we have an Enemy who wants nothing more than to tie us. To make us live in bondage, rather than the freedom we think we desire. Martin Luther spoke of “the Bondage of the Will”, where we are really quite wretched creatures where God’s Law is concerned. Not only do we fail to keep it, but we fail every single time we try on our own. We’re hopelessly in bondage by sin, and every thought and inclination we have is toward serving the evil that binds us.

Check your language. Are you truly ready for freedom?

Try it. Instead of using the words I listed above, try replacing them with: “I am free to”; “I am ready to”; “I am blessed to”; “I can now”; “I am able to”; “I have been freed to”.  Stop binding yourself by your own words!

I pray you’ll find freedom you never even knew existed.

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5 thoughts on “Of Pao, Language, and Freedom

  1. Only somewhat related: The opening of this post reminded me of the blue-green argument.

    I’ve been told that some languages have only one word which they use to refer to both blue and green. Whether they see it as the same color – or whether they just can’t vocalize the difference (since they have no other word for it) – I’m not sure.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguishing_blue_from_green_in_language (Yeah, it’s wiki, but it’s easy to access as a starting point.)

    1. And – more to the point of your post – I love the whole “I have to…” vs “I get to…” argument. It’s amazing how many things people think they “have to” do and what a difference it makes what you realize you “get to” – you can be proactive about it.

  2. I have read all about these interesting things. In fact, I think there was a recent Cracked article about the exact same thing.

    It also goes for emotions, weirdly enough: if a language doesn’t have a word for “frustrated”, for example, they will be unable to distinguish between frustration and, say, anger. Even when described specifically, most people would say they’ve never really felt the emotion.

  3. Being proactive is such an amazing thing. To realize that what we do is truly our choice can be scary — it means we have to take responsibility now — but it also is, as you say, freeing. And only the Christian truly is free, since we’ve been freed by the Son!

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