Calling A Spade A Rose

roseIn the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare popularized the idea that calling something by a different name doesn’t change the nature of that thing:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet (Act II, Scene ii)

But is that true? Don’t words have meanings?

There’s a philosophical principle called the law of identity, one of the three classic laws of thought, which says an object is the same as itself, or A=A. But what if we started calling A by some other name? Would it still be A?

So if Romeo Montague started calling himself Romeo Smith, would he cease to be the son of a Montague? Juliet was arguing from the other side: Romeo is Romeo whether you call him a Montague or a Smith. But words have meanings and his designation as a Montague was part of his identity. He wouldn’t cease being who he was, including who his parents were, simply by taking up a new name.

So why all this philosophical rumination?

It seems the Bible takes a dim view of a relativistic approach to life. From Isaiah 5:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Notice, in the first instance simply naming as good that which is evil draws the warning. For this identity switch to be an issue, there really does have to be that which is good and that which is evil. In other words, stated in terms of the law of identity, good is good and evil is evil.

Anyone who contradicts this law, then would fall into the warning of woe. As it happens, we are living in a day when society does in fact call good what the Bible calls evil and the other way around.

Homosexual activity comes to mind. Society calls committed same-sex unions, “marriage,” but changing the name doesn’t mean there’s a family unit capable of reproduction, nor does it alter the fact that the Bible identifies homosexuality activity as a part of the consequences of the Fall (Romans 1:24-27).

Saying that there is no hell also comes to mind. False teachers can proclaim universal salvation all they want, but saying all people will go to heaven doesn’t make it so, not when Jesus clearly lays out the narrow road to life and the broad way to destruction.

A third evil/good exchange is the idea that Mankind is good, not sinful. Saying that Mankind has an education problem, not a sin problem demonstrates the greatest sin of all–that of ignoring God and His Word, or worse, calling Him a liar.

Which leads to the worst evil/good exchange of all–identifying God as wicked, wrong, evil, bad, a tyrant for exercising His justice. This lie defames the most righteous, pure, honorable, and just Being Who exists. He is perfection. He is the definition of good. So what could it mean to say that God is wicked?

Clearly, a change of name doesn’t change who He is. But words do have meaning, though they don’t alter reality. So the people who state those reversals, and those who listen and follow along, put themselves in dire circumstances.

Woe, “great sorrow or distress,” Scripture says, to those who switch out wrong for right, who call darkness, light and bitter, sweet. They’re only hurting themselves. God is still good, no matter what they say. Mankind is still sinful, no matter what they say. In other words, the law of identity holds true, though some may be deluded into believing that a spade is actually a rose.

Published in: on March 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on Calling A Spade A Rose  
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