Fintan O'Toole: Ethos is a word for arbitrary power

Jesus once told nuns to sack pregnant teachers. So why has he changed his mind?

The recipient of divine guidance is merely a medium for the message and the ultimate source of authority cannot be held to account because he/she made the world. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

The recipient of divine guidance is merely a medium for the message and the ultimate source of authority cannot be held to account because he/she made the world. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Language shapes our thoughts. An odd Latin word, one we would never use in everyday speech, sits quietly at the heart of our public services and thus of our life as citizens. Ethos – the radioactive isotope that pulses silently through our health and education systems. It is the essence of the controversy over the national maternity hospital. It determines the most basic things, like access to a primary school. But it doesn’t mean what it pretends to mean.

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