Editing Heritage from the Dictionary

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Monday, January 12, 2009

Editing Heritage from the Dictionary


January 12, 2008

Lisa Saunders of County Down in Northern Ireland has four children, ages 7 to 14. As you might expect, she has plenty of experience helping them with their homework.

But nothing in her experience prepared her what she recently discovered while helping her son.

When she consulted the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, she was surprised that the words “moss” and “fern” were no longer in the dictionary. That made her curious about what else had been omitted. So she compared the 2007 edition to the six previous editions and what she found “horrified” her.

Gone were words like “coronation,” “willow,” and “goldfish.” In their place were words like “MP3 player,” “blog,” and “biodegradable.”

Not surprisingly, words reflecting Britain’s Christian heritage were especially hard hit: “abbey, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, monk, nun, pew, saint,” and “sin” were all axed. Even Christmas took a hit: “carol,” “holly,” and “mistletoe” were removed.

In their place, kids got “tolerant,” “interdependent,” and “bilingual.”

Saunders is concerned that eliminating “so many words associated with Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”

That’s exactly the idea. The head of the children’s dictionary at Oxford University Press admitted as much. She said that “the environment has changed.” “We are also much more multicultural,” she added. And she said that “people don’t go to Church as often as before” and “our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism.”

In other words, we judge our religion by our ideology—in this case, multiculturalism—not vice-versa.

What Oxford University Press sees as changing with the times, others see as discarding Britain’s cultural and religious heritage. As one Buckingham University official put it, “[Britain has] a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable.”

What masters the Brits are of understatement. As writer Erin Manning pointed out, at the same time Saunders exposed the verbal vandalism, a prominent philosopher has written a new book arguing that “Europe must call itself Christian.”

In Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians, Marcello Pera writes that Europe’s only hope for unity lies in acknowledging its Christian roots. It is “Christianity’s concept of the human person as created in the image of God” that justifies European “values,” he wrote.

He warns that if Europe cuts itself off “from these Christian principles . . . [it] will have destroyed [its] constitutional heritage” and leave itself vulnerable to attack from those hostile to its values.

What makes Pera’s argument remarkable is that he is an atheist! His book came in response to questions posed by Pope Benedict.

That an atheist philosopher is ready to acknowledge Christianity’s role in defining Europe exposes how preposterous these dictionary antics are—a kind of foolishness whose impact can be felt far beyond “numerous primary schools.”


Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

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