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


  1. Dont throw it away. I'll keep it for someone who needs it for private prayer. I think you are too much calling the change re-writing scripture. It is merely an unauthorized private translation.

  2. Gender inclusive language is so aggravating.

    Changing the words changes the meaning, and so yes, it is re-writing scripture. It only takes a single word to change the meaning, as the whole world saw when Martin Luther added the word "alone" to a certain Bible verse that should have ended with "faith."

    And it didn't sound to me like anyone was going to throw it out! Just take a big eraser to it!

    I used to be so distracted by the gender inclusive language at my old parish during Christmas carols on Christmas Eve... "Peace on Earth, Good will to All..." Yuck...

    Great post Daria!

    1. Thanks. The Christmas carols are the worst. Luckily I've sung them for so many years, I don't even touch the hymnal and just belt out: Joy to the world, the Savior Reigns,Let MEN their songs employ.

  3. Every syllable of this resonates. And takes me back to another time and place when my very small daughters and I were visiting the sisters (who lived down the block) and partaking of their Evening Prayer:

    "Glory be to the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sancitifier..."

    Ick. It was too distracting after that. Don't mix politics and prayer.

  4. "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."

    Or, as I put it ... To adopt "inclusive language" is to adopt the philosophical underpinnings of babykilling. And, for a Catholic, our answer must be, Not Now, Not Ever.

  5. Daria
    This is an important post because the Liturgy is the "priveledged place of chatechisis". The Liturgy teaches us that God revealed Himself in the masculine. Where that leads can be the topic of many a meditation and discussion but the Liturgy grounds it.

    My favorite humorous example of "horizontal" inclusive language is the version of Faith of Our Fathers in our missilette. It used to be a song that referred to all of the saintly examples of our heritage of both genders. Now that there is a new verse, Faith of Our Mothers, most of the verses refer to the men in our heritage and one to the women!! An example of how one can unintentionally change the meaning of the whole by adding or changing.

    1. Isn't that the one that goes, "Our mothers, too, oppressed and wronged..." with enough feminist code words to imply that it was our fathers who were "oppressing" our mothers? Ick.

  6. Has anyone ever caught out an inclusivist rendering references to Satan gender-neutral?

    Just askin'.

  7. I had to lead the singing using the inclusive language Glory and Praise and CBW III hymn books. If people don't believe in God the Father, then they don't believe in the Trinity at all. Those same people are lobbying Obama to promote Obama care, abortion funding, contraception funding included. The priests are all in denial when you point it out them. I am glad I was a Christian before I became Catholic. - Richard Mansfield, Prince George, BC

  8. Maybe not all priests are prepared to take such a stunning leap from hymn-book inclusive language to national politics.

  9. Please see the latest Operation Rescue mailout to see what I am talking about. It's the old story - the tradition Catholics are finding themselves with more in common today with Evangelical Christians in the prolife movement than with their own "denomination". Anyway, I am no longer playing Catholic liturgy and am working for this cause.
    - Richard