“Iconic” and How We Deal With Co-option

I’ve been mulling over an exchange I read on Facebook the other day. The prompt was an article about someone who was described as an icon. Someone questioned whether any human being should be labeled “iconic.” Someone else responded that his understanding of the Gospel is that we are all called to be iconic.

The person who was uncomfortable with the use of the term icon responded by saying that the use of the word by journalists and others has nothing to do with humans being iconic in the sense of being made in the image of God. Rather, she suggested, the secular usage is about giving glory and praise to the individual. Secularism, she argued, having co-opted the word “icon” empties it of his Christian meaning.

Icon is certainly not the only term of which that is true. As my friend Joshua suggested in the exchange, “there are many good words that have been coopted: some by secularists, some by conservative Evangelicals, to mention only two coopting groups.”

The question is: how to we deal with that. One response is to abandon such words to those who would distort their meaning. My friend’s response was different: “Part of my understanding of what it means to proclaim the Gospel in my daily life is to take back those words so that those around me, faithful or not, at least understand what their significance is in a Catholic or Orthodox context.”

I understand the temptation to cede the field to those who would strip words of their Christian meaning; that is certainly the easier path. But I think my friend is correct that part of proclaiming the Gospel includes not taking the easy path here.

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