Thursday 27 October 2016

Gay marriage: the meaning of words changes, get over it

Published 22/10/2015 | 02:30

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the Catholic Church needed a reality check after the gay marriage referendum result
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the Catholic Church needed a reality check after the gay marriage referendum result

With regard to Eric Conway's letter (Irish Independent, October 19), I agree that opposition to gay marriage is rooted in moral difficulties about homosexuality and in the unease we all feel when words begin to change their meanings.

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I share much of Eric's unease about the shifts and changes in meaning but not his antipathy towards same-sex unions. I have regularly warned students about rooting their judgments in definitions or in appeals to the origin of words. The way a word found its way to us is of little significance in determining its meaning.

Meaning changes: 'nice' once meant 'silly', 'to decimate' once meant 'to kill one out of ten'.

With regard to dictionaries, they are not intended as prescriptive but as indications of usage. The intention is to support us in continuing to make sense to one another.

There is no final arbiter of what a word means. Meaning is to be found in use; there is nowhere else to go. With regards to the word 'marriage' we have a very good case of contested use. I find the phrase 'gay marriage' difficult to work comfortably with as it is not yet securely rooted in ordinary usage. The failure to see this lies at the heart of many of the negative attitudes towards the idea of gay marriage. It will eventually have a more secure place in our discourse. Another unsafe source of insight lies in a selective fundamentalist reading of the Bible, where homosexuality is described as an abomination.

What seems to go unnoticed is that this judgment equally applies to the eating of pork. If we extend the application of this usage, the ultimate abomination would be a gay marriage celebration with pork on the menu.

The result of the referendum has awakened us all from our dogmatic slumber. Thankfully, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin sees it as an invitation to take a reality check.

Philip O'Neill


The folly of the 'little slap'

With the news that reasonable chastisement is to be removed as a defence for hitting your children, we hear the usual chorus of "It's just a little slap" and "Sure, it never did me any harm."

I used to share this mindset until one day, during a stressful episode with my bold child, I gave her that little slap on the arm, to which she replied defiantly, "That didn't hurt."

I was furious, but as I drew back my hand to rectify the situation I checked myself and walked away. I realised at that moment that what I had been about to do had absolutely nothing to do with changing the behaviour of the child and everything to do with my rising anger.

On further reflection, I realised the utter folly of the little slap. This form of discipline is only effective when it hurts, and the more it hurts the more effective it will be. I now realise that those who champion the little slap can only be using it as a palatable euphemism for physically hurting the child. Otherwise, what's the point?

As for the victim's chant of "Sure, it did me no harm", I would argue that it did him and society immense harm. It instilled in him the notion that physically hurting children is reasonable and acceptable behaviour.

Sean Smith

Clonmellon, Co Meath

Leave the Angelus alone

RTÉ has decided to radically overhaul the broadcasting of the Angelus on television.

This latest revamp will be carried out without any substantial support from us, the public, which includes the various Christian denominations as well as Muslims and Buddhists, (despite repeated attempts to garner such support).

It seems to me that this reflects, less an Ireland "of all faiths and none" as much as an Ireland of "no faith at all" that is situated in RTÉ's Montrose studios in Dublin.

I have no doubt that the reason we were not consulted was because it knew only too well what our answer would be.

So, go ahead RTÉ, impose and enforce your secular gospel on us, all equally and without distinction.

Who are we, after all, but your humble and lowly TV licence payers on whom you are dependent for your annual collection?

But I weep for the loss of this most beautiful and scriptural of Christian prayers, which recalls daily for us that most sacred of moments when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us - for all mankind.

Fr Freddy Warner, SMA

Portumna, Co Galway

Rugby: ball skills beat bulk

In response to James Gleeson's letter about rugby and hurling and headgear (Irish Independent, Letters, October 20), I must refute the claims.

First off, rugby and hurling are different sports. The issue with rugby being more dangerous than it used to be is down to the rules not being applied consistently by referees.

Behind the back foot of a ruck is still a law, but it is completely ignored by referees now. Ignoring this rule gets players in the face of opposition backs quicker, thus they are more likely to go body to body tackling, thus creating more chance of head collisions.

Diving off your feet into rucks is also illegal but seems to be called clearing out now - for some reason this is seen as legal.

Size is not more important than skill. As was shown in the Argentina match, fast wingers are better than big ones and more muscular props don't mean better props. This reasoning that bigger is better leads to young players bulking up when they need to be focusing on ball skills first. Bulking up is very dangerous to the health of players, and if you truly want to keep rugby safe then you have to get across to young players that ball skills will always beat bulk.

Nigel Fennell

Churchtown, Dublin 14

James Gleeson called for compulsory use of head gear to protect rugby players from serious head injury.

Unfortunately, as they discovered in American football, head-guards does little to protect players from concussion - one of the most serious head injuries. Concussion can be caused without any impact to the head; all that is needed is an impact to the body that causes the brain to jolt inside the skull.

What rugby needs is a better system of playing, where the emphasis is placed on skill, where you avoid tackles, rather than attempting to batter your way forward. We have much to learn from the southern hemisphere teams, who use the full width of the pitch, thereby avoiding unnecessary collisions - and see where this has taken them thus far.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Irish Independent

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