The only way we can physically inhabit the same common space is by a shared understanding of the meanings of things. There of course needs to be a shared “language proper,” but this principle also extends to other things that are not explicitly verbal. When Nancy and I have traveled to the U.K., we have certainly benefited from the shared use of English—but the traffic signs are as different from ours as they are in Germany. In a particular culture, shared meanings extend well beyond the definitions of words as you might find them in a dictionary.
When this reality is denied, or flouted, this is not a refutation of the point I am making here. Rather, it marks the disintegration of that particular culture into chaos and madness.
Say after worship services on Sunday one of the elders was informed that a teenaged boy in the congregation had gone down to the nearest thoroughfare and there, dressed in his Sunday best, was giving the bird to passing motorists. The elder went down to remonstrate with the boy, and to inform him what that particular gesture meant, and to inform him that twenty percent of a wave does not “mean” a moderate or understated friendliness.
What would happen if the boy replied that moderated friendliness is what the gesture meant to him? That was his private understanding. This is what he is thinking of in his heart.
What would happen if I wore a yarmulke during a day of air travel, and replied to any inquiries I might receive that it signified the fact that I was a lapsed Missouri Synod Lutheran? That is what I intend by it.
And what would happen if someone put a dog collar around their neck, with an attached chain, and said that it signified their submission to Christ, for does not the word doulos mean slave? And that the tattoo of the tarantula on their cheekbone meant defiance of the devil and all his works? Cathedrals have gargoyles and so why can’t we ink a row of them just below the hairline? We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and such sanctuaries should have gargoyles along the forehead.
We either accept these private meanings or we do not. If we do not, then we are recognizing that hair, clothing, jewelry, etc. are all forms of public communication, and if they are shared communication this means that they are part of a shared language. They are public acts. We are communicating by means of them, and do not get to complain when people who are more astute than we are actually comprehend what we are saying. Nobody gets a privatized lexicon.
But if we go the other way, and if we accept these private meanings, we are not just accepting the personal views of an eccentric individual. We are rather accepting the dissolution of the West. We are wadding up and throwing away something that took many centuries to build. We are surrendering to the rotting decadence of the postmodern mind. We are climbing up on the pyre with Denethor.
If your hair only means what you want it to mean, then why does this remarkable magic authority stop there? Twenty percent of a wave it is. And every time somebody sneezes, just say “eff you” because down in your heart you have assigned the meaning of God bless to all such expressions.
When we say that a person’s demeanor, outlook, behavior, or dress is “edgy,” do we know what that means? If something is edgy, there must be edges. If there are edges there must be a center. If there are both edges and a center, then what would possess Christians to go out and stick their toes over an edge that was defined and owned by rank unbelief?
Note that I am not talking about what happens when Christians are devoted to true holiness, and are accused of being “edgy” by dissolute paganism. The early Christians were accused of atheism, cannibalism and incest by the pagans of Rome, but this was not because their pastors wore ironic propeller hats and Assyrian king lumbersexual beards. They were accused of this because they were devoted to one God only, because they partook of the body and blood in a holy ritual, and because they loved one another like brothers and sisters.
Edgy is as edgy does, and sins are like grapes. They come in bunches. Run a thought experiment survey. Among the edgy Christians you know, do they feel free to be foul and profane in their verbal expressions? Are they clearly resolved to not be your grandmother’s effing Sunday School teacher?
But the apostle says this:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4, ESV).
And Jesus gave us another important principle:
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
The Bible teaches that the mouth reveals the abundance of the heart, and so among many edgy Christians we therefore need to conclude that their hearts are little more than sewage lagoons.
And here it is that the central rot is revealed. My point could be resisted in a comparatively Christian fashion, but overwhelmingly today the response is simple relativism. “But who’s to sayyyyy . . .?”
Now I have claimed that outrageous personal adornment has the meaning which our culture has assigned to it—which is that truth is autonomous, individual and personal, and does not overarch all of us together. There is no binding truth—this is what such language means in public. And I have argued that this cannot be turned into anything other than what it is by the privatized intentions of confused evangelicals (“It means ‘twenty percent of a wave’ down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart.”). If there is no overarching truth, then it is not possible to take the symbols that have been created to represent that rebellion and wrest it from the rebels, turning that bone through your nose into something pristine, fresh and virginal. The yarmulke is closer to the Missouri Synod than outré edgy is to the modesty and dignity plainly required by Scripture. The beauty of holiness is not represented well by the ugliness of a badly executed whitewash of unholiness.
Now I know that relativism is incoherent, and that it necessarily contains hidden absolutes. That there is no truth is thought somehow to be mysteriously true, but we will bypass that for the moment. But relativists only allow such absolutes in when they are suitably disguised and enable them to save their incoherent system. They will never allow an absolute in if it would destroy their entire project—which is the rejection of the God of Heaven.
So unbelievers, who are the inventors of all this stuff, have two different reactions to the Christians who ape them. The first reaction is when they scoff at how LAME it is. It comes across to them like Pat Boone singing Iron Butterfly covers. But the second reaction is where they welcome the efforts of the edgy Christian . . . but they only do this because they have no objection to apostasy in process. They don’t mind recruiting from our ranks, and do not mind encouraging the vulnerable to step right along.