The Rabbit Hole of Wokeness & Merriam-Webster

Following the fall of the Cambridge Dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has slipped from the same cultural precipice only to dashed on the blunt rocks of wokeness below.  The evidence? A secondary definition has been added to define the word female. Now, claims the book that is supposed to normalize our use of language, the word female may mean, “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.”[1] Of course, the words “gender identity” have a hyper-link.  Click and you will be treated to a definition of the concept. And according to Merriam-Webster Online, this is “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female.”[2] Now, since the words “female” and “gender identity” are linked in this cultural standard, let’s use it as a map down this rabbit hole where, like Alice, we will likely be shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a tea pot before we make it out!

The key words in Merriam-Webster’s Online definition of “gender identity” are “a person’s internal sense.” Let’s take this phrase apart. Internal has several definitions in the Merriam-Webster online edition but not all of them are equally relevant. For example, the first definition is “existing or situated within the limits or surface of something” and an example given for such a thing is that which is inside the limits of the body. However, the second definition is “existing within the mind,” that is, in the thought life of a person. So, the word internal can mean either in the body or in the mind. But since the transgendered person feels that they are in the wrong body the “internal” referenced in the phrase “internal sense” must be “in the mind” or situated in the limits of one’s thinking.

Now, what about “sense”? Well, the Online Dictionary gives several definitions. However, all of them have something to do with either sense perception or a “conscious awareness or rationality.” Again, these definitions have to do with body or mind. Now, those definitions that connect sense with sense perception acknowledge that humans are fitted to the world around them. We see a friend and recognize him as such. We touch a hot stove and pull our hands away. We smell coffee in the morning and know that someone loves us. Senses connect us to the world.

The transgendered person understands this fitted-ness, but thinks it is wrong. Not because the body doesn’t fit the world, it certainly does, but it doesn’t fit their thinking. In other words, a person prior to transition can still recognize friends, smell coffee, and know the oven is hot. Their body fits the world around them. So, apparently the word “sense” in the definition of gender-identity has something to do with “conscious awareness or rationality.” Once again, the problem is in the mind.

Interestingly, and yet not surprisingly, Merriam-Webster’s online definition of rationality means “agreeable to reason” or the “state of being rational.” Reason can be thought of as the mind’s logical powers, or the proper use of those powers, or an explanation given by the proper use of the mind’s power.  All of these summarize in some way or another Merriam-Webster’s Online entries for reason. But this raises a question. Can the mind operate wholly apart from the world?

Let me ask those who are sympathetic to this new definition in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary to pause for a minute of reflection. Think about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant was an eighteenth-century philosopher.  In fact, he may well be called the philosopher of that era and ever since. Yes, he has had that much of an impact. And he was not a believer.

Now, Kant asked a basic question. He desired to know what makes experience possible. The answer to that question, argues Kant, rests in the relationship between the knower and the thing known. He believed that the world around us is made up of percepts and those percepts fit into the categories of the mind. The bridge between percepts and mind’s categories is the senses. Kant had a handy pedagogical line that went something like this, without perceptions the mind’s categories would be empty and without the mind’s categories perceptions would be meaningless.

Now, do you see the problem, even for an Enlightenment philosopher like Kant?  The mind and the percept enjoy a dependent relationship. Percepts need the constructive powers of the mind, but the mind also needs the percept.  For example, what would Kant say to the person who claimed to have imagined a unicorn? The philosopher would say this is an example of the mind going beyond its own capabilities to know. Imagining is not knowing. So, if a man approached Kant with a statement like, “I am woman trapped in a man’s body,” he would have laughed with exuberance wondering when the punchline was coming. But there is no punchline. The claim of the transgendered person is that the percept of their body is wrong according to their own reimagined self.

In the end, the transgendered person is claiming to have knowledge they alone may possess.  They are the new Gnostics. However, it is far worse than that. They also claim to be the ultimate authority over the created order. In Carl Trueman’s, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, he says that the authority of the created world is obvious and unavoidable. In other words, just try sowing seeds in December and harvesting in March.  Your endeavor is doomed to failure. Yet, says the transgendered person, nature must conform to my reimagined self. But not only nature, everyone else must also acknowledge their assumed authority. A dejected old man recently told me that his grandson would have nothing to do with him unless he believed that his grandson was now a girl.

In the end this is dizzying. But thankfully, the Cambridge Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary are not the standard. Yes, they are cultural standards which describe and to a large extent normalize a society’s use of language. But their authority is not final. But there is a book which is the final authority.  It’s God’s book, the Bible. The Bible provides some basic answers to some of life’s difficult questions.

For instance, God tells us in His word that He created human beings male and female (Gen. 2:21-25), a biological distinction. He also tells us how we are to understand and relate to creation. Creation is evidence for the unseen (Hebrews 11:1-2). We ought to see it and know that there is a Creator. But the Bible tells us something else. It does not deny the difficulties of people. Nor does the Bible leave a person alone to struggle in their thoughts. The Bible recognizes those struggles.  It explains that they are unnatural. They are rebellious. But more, the Bible explains how a person might submit their thoughts to the Creator in Jesus Christ and find the needed cleansing of conscience (Hebrews 9:14) that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can promise and deliver.

If you have fallen down the rabbit hole. If you have been shrunk and stretched. There is One who can save, His name is Jesus and He is the Christ.  Believe in Him. Trust Him who alone can put you back together again.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 and Place for Truth both online magazines of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.