Does anyone else remember, as a child, role-playing as wizards or witches and turning each other into a frog or a cat or…? It was all fun and games until someone chose the wrong animal. "I am not a chicken!!!" "Yes you are!"
Remembering those humorous amusements (even when they went awry) brings a smile to my face. The reason this youthful activity came to mind is because I was perusing United Airline's Hemispheres magazine on the way to Nashville this week. It included an article titled "The Lizard King" about George Cera, who is paid by Boca Grande, Florida to rid them of as many spiny-tailed black iguanas as he can at $20 per head. If you are a PETA member, that might sound like an evil job, but those omnivorous lizards are an invasive species that (until Cera's intervention) were reeking havoc on native plants and animals.
Cera doesn't like killing for sport, so he actually eats his victims. (I can't imagine all of them. He's a big man, but not big enough to consume his entire reptile bounty.) No, it doesn't really taste like chicken, but he does substitute iguana meat for chicken in recipes. Cera is far from the first reptile connoisseur:
The people of Central and South America have used the iguana as a food source for centuries, referring to it as gallina de palo or "tree chicken." (Beyond the supposedly similar flavor, the ctenosaur's mannerisms—head bobbing and cocking—are uncannily henlike.) The lizard was so important to the diet of Central and South Americans that the Catholic Church long ago reclassified the iguana as a fish, permitting its consumption on Fridays and religious holidays.1
I suppose the spines sort-of look like top fins, but I don't think Nemo has to fear that Boca Grande's unwelcome residents are going to be chowing-down on him anytime soon (short of someone designing scuba gear for lizards). But here you have it, the world's largest denomination, I assume for pragmatic reasons, "long ago reclassified the iguana as fish."
If doing so didn't implicitly connect arbitrariness with God it would be funny. However, in the 21st century we also have no trouble redefining or reclassifying, but in our case it is frequently to allow us to continue doing what we want, avoid doing what we don't want, or evade guilt for that which we already did. Whether you support Obama or not, can you really (integrity in tact and with a straight face) claim that what we are doing in Libya does not amount to "hostilities" (especially if you have do so to someone who just had a U.S. missile or bomb kill members of their family)? Or how about Clinton's implicit redefinition of a word when his defenders claimed he was accurate in emphatically stating, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" since, well, what he and Monica Lewinsky were doing in the Oval Office wasn't really sex. (Also reclassifying an act in such a way that I guess it really wasn't adultery either.) I hate to think of the damage that one situation has done to our hormonal youth (not to mention the follow-up that it's okay to lie when it's about sex—or if what someone is asking about is none of their business).
Lest my examples come off as partisan, I'm pretty sure I'd feel like I was being tortured if some waterboarded me regardless of whether Bush's lawyers classified it as an "enhanced interrogation technique" instead.2 Or, for that matter, one has to have a unique take on the word "crook" to accept Nixon's statement, "I am not a crook." With all due respect Mr. President (and I actually did respect him), you may be no more unscrupulous than many of your predecessors and successors, but there is a reason you had to resign (and don't you try to blame Checkers!3)
As aggravating as the redefinitions produced by politics are, religious ones are far more concerning because of their more direct eternal consequences. The Catholic Church's redefinition of fish to somehow include a Florida town's reptilian nemesis isn't really of as great a concern either.
Where God gets really disturbed (and so should we) is when man reclassifies a sin as being okay. As the Apostle Paul notes:
Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:32, English Standard Version).
Why does God care? Shouldn't it just be "live and let live"? Everything is fine as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else? Well, that's just it! Your bad example…your self-serving reclassification or redefinition…does hurt others:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).
When you say sin isn't sin (in word or action), you are encouraging people to choose a path that leads to eternal destruction. You set your own judgment and wisdom over that of the creator, which is fine and dandy if you are going to go over the cliff of the damned alone, but your narcissistic ignorance drags others into Gehenna with you.
An iguana is not a fish. What we are doing in Libya amounts to hostilities. It was sex; it was adultery; it was a lie. Waterboarding is torture. Mr. President, you were a crook.
And sin is sin regardless of whether or not a society (or denomination) decides to reclassify it. God has given you a dictionary with 66 books. When it comes to morals, use its definitions and classifications and you won't go wrong. Choose someone else's at your own peril.
1 Stoddard, G. (2011, June). The Lizard King. Hemispheres, 95.
2 In some ways I can understand why people play games with semantics. For instance, the word "torture" is so prejudicial it short-circuits an important conversation about what methods are acceptable in time of war or when lives are at risk. However, that does not change the fact that if you open up your dictionary you'll likely find a definition for torture that would include making someone feel like they were drowning.
3 If all you picture here is a board game, then you didn't get it. 🙂