Monday, October 13, 2008

Condoning Behavior

I'll admit that my vocabulary isn't breathtaking. I'm one of those people that can use a word in a sentence - even a $10 word - correctly, but if pressed to give you an actual definition I would be hard-pressed to recite the OED verbatim. This doesn't mean that I don't look up definitions of unknown or difficult words; I just have a better time remembering context and synonyms than I do lengthy or detailed definitions. My experience leads me to believe that most Americans are in the same "definition boat" as me.

Why this preface? Until a couple of months ago I was completely convinced that "condone" was a fancy synonym for "approval". Alas, the phrase "I don't condone that behavior" was saying that "I don't approve of that behavior". It's certainly how it comes off in context.

Merriam-Webster defines "approve" as:
"to have or express a favorable opinion of"; "to accept as satisfactory."

Merriam-Webster defines "condone" as:
" to regard or treat (something bad or blameworthy) as acceptable, forgivable, or harmless."

Merriam-Webster places the etymology of "condone" in the Latin condonare meaning "absolve" ["to set free from an obligation or the consequences of guilt"].

So what? Neal was wrong; it's not the first time, right? True, but I was thinking about the differences recently after reading the McCain response to the prayer given by an Iowan paster at a recent McCain rally (see Christopher's discussion of the event here).

"While we understand the important role that faith plays in informing the votes of Iowans, questions about the religious background of the candidates only serve to distract from the real questions in this race about Barack Obama's judgment, policies and readiness to lead as commander in chief." - Wendy Riemann, Midwest Regional Communications Director

The L.A. Times interpreted this statement to mean, "[t]he McCain campaign said it did not condone the prayer."

I disagree with the L.A. Times' interpretation of Ms. Riemann's statement. "Condone" contains an admission of harm, guilt, or blame in the action or statement that you are rebuking. Ms. Riemann states that "questions about religious background of the candidates only serve to distract from the real questions." I agree; however, that isn't actually what the pastor was speaking about.

Pastor Arnold Conrad petitioned God:

"I also would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god--whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah--that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons."

(Presumably, Conrad is praying to the Western Christian interpretation of God given the reference to "Allah" or was seeking to single out Muslims? Middle Eastern/Arabic speaking Jews and Christians also refer to God as "Allah" meaning "the God.")

Conrad was talking about the religious faith of the candidate's supporters, not the candidates themselves. Certainly the McCain campaign could not condone the invocation of deities, or the decision to pray for a certain candidate at the risk of alienating their Christian supporters - and the pastor they asked to speak at the rally - that do the same. McCain may not have approved of the distinction of different faiths in the prayer; they may not have approved of Conrad's insinuation that only non-Christians are praying for Obama (perhaps a guileful statement on Obama's faith as well), but they certainly did not condone the prayer in the statement they issued. The McCain campaign, instead, condoned the use of a candidate's faith to question his or her ability to lead. I'm Neal Schuett, and I approve that message.

No comments: