It’s been years since I heard “motherhood and apple pie” to describe an unquestioned good. Nowadays motherhood gets tangled in gender roles and reproductive rights, while apple pie might imply gluten or migrant labor. What do we say instead? Or is there no longer a good on which we can all agree?
In his Ethics of Rhetoric (1953), English professor Richard M. Weaver coined the phrase “God terms” for vague yet powerful expressions of cultural values. Science, democracy, and progress in the 1950s carried an authority that didn’t invite analysis or debate. Their modern successors include natural, diverse, and inclusive. Negative equivalents are “devil terms” like radical and un-American.
Calls for freedom and justice can motivate constructive action or whip crowds into a frenzy. Who could oppose them? Or integrity, or liberation? Undefined God terms are useful for binding groups and stirring emotion. Just don’t confuse them with reasoned argument.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.