"The Labor of Language"
"On this Labor Day Weekend, I intend to speak about what the British Philosopher of Language, J.L. Austin, calls “the power of words to do things.” First, we will look at the story of the tortured Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and hear how that distinctly American tale about the misuses of language connects in dark and unexpected ways to the Biblical Story of the Pentecost in Acts 2. Here, the disciples of the departed Christ experience the strange-and often misinterpreted- “tongues of fire,” which allow people of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds to share a common- yet democratically accessible- language. We will see what some examples from American Literature have to say about both the uses and misuses of such elevated, poetic or prophetic language in our national life of law, labor and language. Given recent court decisions that have given corporations new “rights of speech” with campaign finances and expression of religious point of view, UUs have been and will continue to be especially conscious of how stories and language- which claim special mythic, universally poetic or religious power- are very complicated, laborious things."