Monday, February 6, 2012

"Inclusive Language" excludes God

A box  of second hand breviaries had been donated to our parish. One of them had been marked up by a previous owner. Every masculine pronoun was crossed out and replaced by other words. For example, Psalm 147: 
Praise the Lord for he is good; sing to our God for he is loving: to him our praise is due. 
had been changed to:
Praise the Lord for God is good; sing to our God for God is loving: to God our praise is due.
Luckily for us, the markings in the breviary were all in pencil.

I've also heard that a few "progressive" religious communities have made themselves "breviaries" for in-house use that do pretty much the same thing  as Phantom Pencil Person did to the breviary that came to our church.

 What do I think about "inclusive language"? 
I  think about it as little as possible. But when I have to (sigh) my thoughts are not cheerful. 
There's a distinction to be made, of course, between 1. avoiding masculine pronouns  that refer to people, and 2.  avoiding masculine pronouns or other words that refer to God. #1 can be an acceptable thing to do in modern non-fiction writing, and very ,very sparingly in liturgical texts, e.g. substituting "people of good will" for the biblical  "men of good will" in the Gloria.
 #2  is pretty much always a really bad idea. 

 Once a liturgical text is paraphrased or tinkered with too much, its validity as a liturgical text is questionable. The great thing about the Liturgy of the Hours is that it is, well, liturgy: the public prayer of the church.  It is not just a private devotion like the rosary or a novena, but a liturgical act, even when you pray it in private.  Liturgy has approved texts.   So a paraphrased  text that is too different from the official liturgical  text runs the hazard of not being true liturgy anymore.  I am not saying here that I am certain that changing male pronouns to gender-neutral ones as one prays the psalms  invalidates your daily office as liturgy. I am  saying that I would not like to risk using an invalid text.  But that's not a risk I'd even be tempted to take, because:

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and recall how the movement for "inclusive language" began.  It was   the initiative of the most radical wing of the feminist movement. The move to substitute other words for masculine pronouns in liturgical texts is based on a political agenda. The same people who agitated for this kind of change in our liturgical and biblical language also agitated for ordination of women, and relaxation of the Church's sexual ethics. Much of their agenda was based on resentment and even hatred of men, and a view of the Church's hierarchy  as primarily a " patriarchal power structure" designed to oppress them. Since I don't buy into that  philosophy, I avoid like the plague the smallest  hint  of it.  A political movement  should not be allowed  to manipulate the way we pray and think about God.

The feminists were not the first ones to try this, although judging from all  the "inclusive" bibles that have been published, they've been the most successful.   During the Prohibition era in the 1920s and 30s, some protestant "translator" issued a Bible that removed any favorable   references to wine, substituting other words that better fit their notions of  what we –and I guess, God—ought to think about fermented beverages.  

 As you know, most of the Liturgy of the Hours   is from the Bible. Isn't  it astounding   that people think they have the authority to change the Word of God to fit a political agenda. If someone tried to re-issue  the works of, say, William Shakespeare in  "inclusive" language they would be rightly laughed off the stage of literary opinion.  Although God is not male in a physical or biological sense,  he wasn't  being arbitrary  by choosing to reveal Himself as  Father and as the  only begotten Son of the Father. So if revisionists try to wipe out these concepts from our prayer,  we are being a little  "exclusive" toward God, aren't we?  "Lord, we don't like some things about you, that make us uncomfortable,  so we are going to avoid those things when we talk about you and to you." 

 Least important, but still for me a good reason, is that so much inclusive re-wording  I have seen, for example, in hymnals, makes for very awkward, unlovely language.   Poetry out; twisted syntax in.  Once upon a time we all knew there was a generic use of the words "man", "mankind", and "he", and were not offended by it.    Yes, this is an instance where I'd love to turn back the clock. As Peter Kreeft famously said, turning back the clock is exactly  what you want to do when the clock is wrong. 

 Sadly,  women who have  been treated badly by men might develop a resentment--or be readily encouraged to develop a resentment-- that grows to include wanting to obliterate from the Bible  language that seems to them to  prefer men at the expense of women. In such cases, their hurt needs healing.  Healing has not occurred when the victim's environment must be completely controlled and censored to remove all items that might remind the victim of her trauma, including items that would not alarm someone who was healthy. That seems to be what is being done by the Inclusive Language Crowd, whether it's done with a pencil or a printer.

thank you to this website for the cute picture