Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some stuff i read here in the press

Thou Shalt Not Use Exclusive Language
By David Bennett
Inclusive language is a hot topic in many mainline denominations, including the Catholic Church. Despite the fact that polls show that most men and women are equally unconcerned with the use of "Father" and "He" when referring to God, many in the Church have made the subject a hot and contestable topic. In fact, in some churches, it is as if an eleventh commandment has been handed-down: thou shalt not use exclusive language. Call God "he" in some churches and you may be thought of as oppressive, patriarchal (i.e. perpetuating male domination), or anti-female. Let me explain the debate, and then I will weigh-in with my thoughts, and I hope provide a more moderate and faithful Catholic response to the issue.
Inclusive language is the use of language that supposedly does not exclude women or any other group. If you have not been to seminary, or do not happen to attend a mainline church, it's likely the term means very little to you. For example, commonly used words, like "mankind," and "councilman," are uses of exclusive masculine language, and are seen to exclude women, who are equally human and just as capable of serving on city councils. The problem in some ways lies with the English language. We do not have a singular personal neutral pronoun, so to be gender accurate, one must do something like this: he/she s/he, etc when writing, which is often awkward. Now while few individuals believe that "mankind" refers simply to men, some scholars have taken offense at such language, accusing it of being oppressive to women, and prefer (and in some cases demand) the use of gender-neutral language, such as "humankind."
The matter has found itself in the debate over how to refer to God also. In the Christian tradition, including in the Bible, God is often denoted by the pronoun "he." Also, the ancient titles for the persons of the Trinity, "Father" and "Son," are masculine. Many moderate Christians who have studied the topic are willing to use non-gender specific language for people, i.e. using "brothers and sisters," as opposed to "brothers," but are not willing to tamper with the Biblical and Ecclesial titles for God. However, those radically in favor of inclusive language would say that God must not be called "Father" or "Lord" because those terms are masculine and oppressive to women.
The problem, I believe, is that much of the debate is embedded in modernity, and since we are now in postmodernity, this explains why those who have tried to enforce inclusive language on churches and average people have been so ineffective. Many in favor of inclusive language feel as if academic trends (or any so-called "enlightened" modern conclusion) automatically must be passed down (sometimes forced in a kind of liturgical blitzkrieg) in the church-at-large, which in the 60s and 70s probably led to the rapid hemorrhaging of members from mainline Protestant churches, whose members were less progressive than the leadership. Many modernist writers feel that if they reach a conclusion through academic research, then their beliefs must be normative, or else the Church will die. This is perhaps modernism's biggest error: its assumption that the modern period is the most enlightened period of all time. Therefore it is very easy to vilify, correct, or even throw out any writing or thought produced before our own time. Thus, to certain revisionist modernists, all ancient writers who refer to God as "he" are unenlightened and patriarchal, and what they say must be corrected through new translations and revisions of ancient texts and liturgies.
Unfortunately, postmodernity has shown us that even the most "rational" and "objective" undertakings are heavily clouded by biases; nobody is bias free. Thus, just because a modernist writer says that anybody who turns on a light switch cannot believe in the God of the Bible doesn't mean it is true; it means that he or she cannot believe in the God of the Bible, and because he or she sees assumes the superiority of modernity, we must reach the same conclusion or else are thinking incorrectly. The inclusive language dispute seems to take on such a character. Many in the academic world have been trained to get deeply offended by the use of masculine metaphors in the Christian worship, and therefore they assume the case is true in the church-at-large. When they find that most Christians in the pews are unconcerned about so-called exclusive language, they then begin to advocate doing what's "best" for the local church, and revising the liturgy and hymnals anyway. One poll among Roman Catholics found that there is no real demand for inclusive language. Actually, 68% of the women and 70% of men reject the need for inclusive language. Many in the Academy might say that these people are unenlightened, oppressed, or bigoted. The truth is quite different. Many of these people are probably post-modern, and therefore post-feminist, and do not see the world in a modernist fashion. They choose to fight other battles. Calling God "he" is inconsequential compared to other issues in the world, they reason.
Let me explain. Very few Christians today and even in the past believe that God has male genitalia, or can even be called "male" in the physical, human sense. In fact, most Christians throughout history have used masculine and feminine metaphors for God, although certainly fewer feminine ones. Early in Christian history, a group of monks began claiming that since masculine terms were used for God, then God must have a male body. This view was, and has been, universally condemned by the Church since that time. Most Christians today, rather than being bigoted against women, have a similar view to the historical Church, which is that God is firmly neither physically female nor male and is above either category. There are some who mistakenly see God as "an old man in the sky," and we must work to correct such anthropomorphic assumptions. Either way, since the language of the Bible and tradition employs masculine metaphors, then in liturgy and Bible translation, many, including I, believe that such masculine titles should be retained, even if a few people might mistakenly take them as physically describing God. After all, the Church has stated throughout its life that God is not male, and still has used masculine language. This does not mean we cannot utilize feminine metaphors for God. In fact, using feminine descriptions for God should be allowed when it does not obscure or contradict traditional Christian beliefs (or if it is not done with the agenda of eventually replacing the classic masculine terms.). All this just means is that your average postmodern person seems far less offended by gendered language than modernists and modernist holdouts in the Academy and the mainline churches, and rarely feel oppressed when someone speaks in common, unguarded language.
Personally, I do not always see inclusive language as always very inclusive. If 69% of the congregation is going to be offended by, or at least suspicious of, inclusive language, then the result is that the majority of the congregation is going to feel quite excluded by "inclusive language." One of the hallmarks of much modernist thought was to inform people what they could and could not believe, without even bothering to ask them. So in the name of inclusion, very many people have actually been excluded. Even though many mainline Protestants have insisted that their vision of "progressive" Christianity will save the Church, their numbers have vastly declined, while more traditional expressions of the faith flourish. The churches who have bought into the inclusive language vision the most radically have declined the fastest. Perhaps many feel excluded by all the "inclusion"?
Another problem the Church must face is the heretical ideas that inclusive language creates. The Trinity, when rendered "inclusive," is often changed from "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" to "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," meaning the personal titles of God are reduced to impersonal descriptions. This "inclusive" formula does not even imply a triune relationship. In fact, the formula is more Modalistic than Trinitarian. Modalism is an ancient heresy that says God is one, but switches to different modes, in which God takes different roles (such as creates, redeems, etc), such as Father and Son. The ultimate result is that the personal God of Christianity is reduced to mere impersonal titles. Another problem I see with changing classical Trinitarian formulas is the egotism involved. Essentially the classical formulas of the first 19 centuries of Christianity are changed because of the supposed enlightenment of a few theologians in the last half-century.
Conversely, many traditionalists will not give at all either, and while I can sympathize with their battle stance (since until recently I was a conservative in a mainline Protestant church), reaction theology is never fruitful or faithful to the truth. Some rigidly insist that we must retain all gendered language, regardless if we would be better served by updating our language. Even if "brothers and sisters" more accurately describes the make-up of the congregation, they still insist on using "brothers." Some ultra-conservative Christians even believe that God is somehow physically masculine, some even saying he has a male spirit-body.
So what is my opinion on the matter? I believe that radical inclusive language, much of it being uncritically taught in seminaries and declining monastic orders, is an affront to Christian orthodoxy. This said, I do accept limited use of inclusive language, but usually side with the traditional designations. I believe that making liturgy and scripture inclusive when it comes to human beings should be a matter of local preference, the choice perhaps given to the local congregation (some churches could say, mankind, others humankind), except in passages that prophetically refer to the coming Messiah. In these messianic cases, the masculine pronoun "he" should be retained to refer to Jesus Christ, as the Church has always seen him in many psalms, canticles, and other scriptural passages. Thus, I believe there is no danger in striving to say "brothers and sisters," instead of just "brothers," and "humankind" instead of "mankind," unless using "mankind" is poetically or historically justified. Regarding God, I believe tampering with the classical titles, pronouns, and formularies is troubling. I have no problem with limited incorporation of feminine metaphors. Incorporating feminine metaphors when appropriate, but retaining the traditional titles (Jesus as Lord, God as Father, etc), is perhaps a good balance. Thus we need not shrink from emphasizing the feminine, as well as masculine, characteristics of God, so long as there is a biblical and historical basis for such imagery. We must also make sure that the feminine metaphors fall within the limits of classic Catholic orthodoxy and take care to verify that the incorporation of these metaphors is not based on an agenda to replace all the masculine images. However, in the end, I would never support "inclusivizing" the baptismal formula or other crucial liturgical moments (I would not take Eucharist offered in the name of Sophia, nor be baptized in the name of Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier).
As you can tell, I am not outright opposed to employing feminine metaphors for God. Perhaps my mixed opinion of inclusive language is that I perceive an inherent cultural egotism in much of it. I get uncomfortable when our worship is amended because of the trends of an era. In this respect, I think changing the old hymns is a very bad idea. The arrogance of changing ancient texts and hymns saddens me. We must understand the writers lived in a different era than we do, and it is troubling to me to force modernism on every era before us. Perhaps future post-post-postmodern people will amend our writings because we are not "enlightened" as they are. The obsessive desire to "correct" every writing, thought, or idea that doesn't meet modern standards of politeness (and blandness) is simply arrogance.
If you are still confused, for those laypeople reading this, perhaps you have encountered inclusive language and didn't even know it. Many seminary graduates have been so uncritically indoctrinated that they would rather renounce the faith than refer to God as "he," and many non-idiomatic sentences have resulted. Sometimes sentences in sermons will read like this one: "And God said to God's people, that if they follow God, God Godself will bless them." Huh? Why not just call God "he?" After all, God is not humanly gendered, and I assume that most Christians are intelligent enough to know that as well. As for using the phrase, "God Godself" instead of "God himself," if I said, "Allen Allen's self told me to visit you" in common conversation, I think I would get more than my share of blank stares. The reason? I have essentially just made up language in the name of inclusion. Rather than make up language that only a few will understand, I try to actually include the average parishioner and just say, "God himself," knowing of course that God is not a humanly gendered "him."
Now, what about Bible translations you may ask? Many Bible versions try to get rid of language that refers to general humanity in a masculine way. The New Revised Standard does this. Thus the Greek anthropoi becomes "people" instead of "men." Anthropoi does not necessarily refer to only men, and certainly includes women, although it is a masculine noun, so "humans" is a fine translation, although non-traditional. "Blessed is 'he' who comes in the name of the Lord," becomes either, "blessed are 'they'" or "blessed is 'the one.'" This can obscure messianic passages in the Old Testament, because Jesus is a "he" not a "they." While I see no real problems with moderately inclusive Bibles, I prefer the more traditional language from a poetical standpoint. The beauty of the Revised Standard Version is far greater than that of the New Revised Standard Version. Also, I would never recommend a Bible that refers to God, or Jesus, in an "inclusive" manner. Some Bibles have even done away with masculine pronouns for Jesus, which is both radical and inaccurate.
One point I also need to raise is how to refer to the Holy Spirit. While calling the Father and the Son "he" is orthodox and a no-brainer (seeing as Father and Son are masculine words), what about calling the Holy Spirit "she" or "mother?" Is this appropriate? I think calling the Holy Spirit "she" or "mother" is, under certain circumstances, within Christian orthodoxy. The Hebrew word for "spirit," ruah, is feminine. In Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah 11 he says nobody should be offended calling the Holy Spirit "mother," because in Hebrew the word for "spirit" is feminine, even though in Latin it is masculine, and in Greek neuter. God is not gendered anyway, Jerome says. So long as the Holy Spirit is not an "it" is perhaps the greatest concern to Christian orthodoxy. This being said, often calling the Holy Spirit "she" or "mother" is on the fringes of orthodoxy, because in many settings, those calling the Holy Spirit "she" or "mother" do so out of a love of political correctness rather than a love for the Holy Spirit, or the Catholic faith. Thus while calling the Holy Spirit "she" or "mother" may well fall within Catholic Orthodoxy, its use is often influenced by heretical motivations.
In conclusion, while I am a believer in limited, optional, inclusive language, by using inclusive language too frequently, changing ancient texts and formulas, and manufacturing academic words, we actually succeed in including only a select few, and actually exclude the vast majority of Christians who find meaning in the traditional usages. In the name of acceptance and inclusion, we exclude entire centuries of Christians, scriptures, hymns, and liturgies. We exclude millions of non-Western Christians worldwide who have not embraced modernist western academic criticisms of language. As Christians, we must certainly stand up for those who are oppressed, and be sensitive to issues of gender (1). However, we also have to contend with Christian history and the liturgical tradition, historical orthodoxy, as well as the love many people have for the traditional language. Those who love the traditional language must also be included in the worship of the Church. While I am a moderate believer in inclusive language, I must say that to postmoderns such as myself, forcing inclusive language on a Church that is largely opposed to it seems rather...well...exclusive.
As of this update on 7-23-04, I am soon to be Catholic. Leaving the Episcopal church, a church that has pretty much fully bought into secular notions of morality and theology, has allowed me to step back from the whole debate and take a breather.
Footnotes1. Even if we believe in standing up for the oppressed as I do, I ask: What does upper-class college educated individuals saying an inclusive language liturgy on Sunday morning do for the oppressed? Very little I suspect.

Friday, September 23, 2005

i love u kids

unless u be like little children
u wont enter dem Pearly gates

Thursday, August 04, 2005

'watever u do will be insignificant, but
it is very important that u do it'
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

i am not the God of the OLD TESTAMENT

i love u guys