What is the word of the year 2023?

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What did Cambridge Dictionary choose as its “word of the year”?

November 16, 2023 -

In this AI-generated image, a robot reads a book in a library. By Rafia/stock.adobe.com

In this AI-generated image, a robot reads a book in a library. By Rafia/stock.adobe.com

In this AI-generated image, a robot reads a book in a library. By Rafia/stock.adobe.com

The world watched as Israeli Defense Forces personnel entered al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City yesterday, where they reported finding an “operational command center” belonging to Hamas. They released a video of some of the material they discovered, including automatic weapons, grenades, ammunition, and flak jackets.

In other headline news, the US Senate passed a continuing resolution last night that will fund the government through early next year. And US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for the first time in a year, agreeing to restore military communications and take steps to curb fentanyl production.

Meanwhile, here’s news you may have missed: Cambridge Dictionary declared “hallucinate” as its word of the year for 2023. The reason has to do with artificial intelligence (AI), which “hallucinates” (also known as confabulating) when its tools produce false information. The dictionary’s publishing manager noted, “The fact that AIs can ‘hallucinate’ reminds us that humans still need to bring their critical thinking to the use of these tools.”

And to the rest of life, I would suggest.

“Pet psychics” are becoming “socially acceptable”

Here are some examples:

Sperm from thirty-nine men killed in Israel’s war with Hamas has been extracted from their bodies to be used by their families for future fertilization. I’m sure this is comforting to these families, but I must ask: What other genetic material could be harvested from deceased persons? Who would own this material? For what uses could it be put?

Scientists in China reported the first live birth of a monkey created by injecting stem cells from one animal into the embryo of another. This was hailed as “a significant stride in the field of biomedicine and genetic engineering.” But I must ask: What genetic complications might this cause? Will they be inherited and thus disseminated throughout the species? Could new diseases for which we have no immunities or medical treatments be created?

I found yesterday a sentence I never thought I would read: “Pet psychics are making their way from the fringe to socially acceptable.” This was reported, not in a supermarket tabloid as you might expect, but by the Wall Street Journal. The article cites a 2022 YouGov survey finding that 67 percent of Americans said they have had a paranormal experience. But I must ask: Does believing in the paranormal make it real? If so, does my belief in God make him real? Or does an atheist’s disbelief in him make him a hallucination (to use the “2023 word of the year”)?

“Another Christian movement that’s changing our politics”

The critical thinking skills Cambridge Dictionary hopes we’ll utilize are unlikely to be popular in a “post-truth” culture that measures facts by feelings and moral standards by personal opinion. In such a day, it is especially urgent that Christians come to terms with what CNN calls “another Christian movement that’s changing our politics.”

The writer, John Blake, is referring to the Social Gospel, which he describes as “a Christian movement that emerged in late nineteenth-century America as a response to the obscene levels of inequality in a rapidly industrializing country.” Blake reports that the Social Gospel “turned religion into a weapon for economic and political reform.” For example, the movement supported campaigns for eight-hour workdays, the breaking up of corporate monopolies, and the abolition of child labor. He points to prominent Christians engaged in social reform today as examples of this movement in our time.

I certainly agree that Christians are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), following the example of the One who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). In fact, Jesus taught us, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Such practical service is vital in a post-Christian culture that is highly skeptical of biblical morality and measures our truth claims by its personal preferences. Showing people God’s love in our compassion has never been more vital to evangelism and missions.

But there’s more to the story.

Beware the “false dilemma fallacy”

Blake also writes that Social Gospel leaders today “are using the Bible, as Social Gospel leaders once did, to argue in various ways that Christian deeds are more important than creeds.” He also claims that the Social Gospel’s message is that “saving people from slums [is] just as important as saving them from hell.”

Let’s apply some “critical thinking” here: Are “deeds” truly “more important than creeds”?

The “creeds” of the Christian faith teach us that we are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and thus of inestimable worth. They teach us that we are to serve our Lord by serving our neighbor. In short, they provide the very foundation upon which Social Gospel “deeds” are best done.

And, is helping people financially truly “just as important as saving them from hell”?

“Saving people from slums” is urgently important, to be sure, but this is a temporary solution to a temporary problem. “Saving them from hell” is eternally more significant.

However, the article’s juxtaposition of deeds and creeds, slums and souls, is an example of what logicians call the “false dilemma fallacy.” The fact is, deeds and creeds are mutually reinforcing and essential. Saving people from slums is a vital way to lead them to the One who can save them from hell.

The more we meet felt needs, the more we earn the right to meet spiritual needs. And the more we meet spiritual needs, the more we equip people to meet felt needs.

How best to “think about the events of the day”

To this end, let’s close with an observation from Henri Nouwen:

We have to learn how to think about the events of the day that take place in our community or in our larger world, and to see them as ways to come to know God in new ways. There is the spiritual life and the political world and the economic world, but somehow we must really believe that God is a God of history who works in the events of the day. . . .

It is important that you learn to read the newspaper with a heart that sees God at work among his people and to be aware of the great struggle in which you are involved—struggles with the power of evil and the hidden love of God. God is present, but you have to be in touch with that very reality. . . .

The world and the reality of daily events are there to be read with the mind and heart of God.

How will you read the news today?

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