Sir Winston Churchill used to say that, having often been forced to eat his own words, he had found them a most wholesome diet. Today, the feel-good food served by politicians of both parties makes up in quantity what it lacks in nutritional value. There is a repetitive party-line staleness about it, a shrunken, standardized vocabulary that people in the public eye must use to avoid becoming an instant casualty of media bombardment.

Of even greater concern is the changing sense of certain words. The fading of their once familiar meanings shrinks the language in yet another manner. The use of the word "gay" furnishes a good example. Gay used to mean happy in a sociable sort of way. One could be cheerful all by one's self, but being gay required the presence of others. In the early 1960s, that meaning began to fall out of favor, and today, the word invariably produces associations of an entirely different nature. Thus, a minority asserts its power over the mainstream through reassignment of word meanings.

Much more alarming is the rampant substitution of the word "myth" for the more offensive word "lie." But true myth (mythology) is a body of traditional narratives which, though themselves unverifiable, underpin a culture and illustrate its broad truths, not all of them pretty. The stories of John Henry, George Washington and the cherry tree, and Paul Bunyan, along with darker fables that reek of bias and discrimination, created a common discourse in America.

The life of Jesus as told by the gospel writers has been called "Christian myth" by some, implying to modern ears that the New Testament is a lie. But the gospels are no more a lie than is the "myth of the Lost Cause" of the post-bellum South. The difference is that Christianity has given meaning to the lives of people of all generations and races, while the mythology of the Lost Cause mostly consoled whites in a broken South. When we discredit myth by discrediting the word, we undercut the foundations of our collective cultural life and trivialize a fundamental need for meaning common to all Americans.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that every historical age misunderstands the other, but a petty age misunderstands every other in its own nasty way. Rather than labeling and snubbing traditional myth by degrading the term, by removing statuary, or by renaming schools, perhaps it is time to view America with eyes wide open. For without accepting some commonality, whether it be a national mythology, a religion, or the shared experiences that connect all Americans, even if that connection offends us, the discussion of race and social justice that progressives have been demanding since the death of George Floyd will remain petty, partisan, and nasty.

John Clem is a resident of Shenandoah County