Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Battle for the Pronoun: Inclusive Language Revisited

The other day I read a funny statement on a blog (funny as in sad, not funny as in humorous). The author was lambasting anyone who didn’t cave to the feminists on inclusive language. He went so far as to say that we should not even refer to God using masculine pronouns like “him” or “his” or “he.” But, he said, drawing himself up to his full height, “We must not mess with the revealed name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Now this was a Churchill-like act of defiance; a veritable drawing of a line in the sand and daring any feminist heretic to cross it at her (or his) peril. It was like Charles the Hammer stopping the Muslim hordes cold in 732 at Tours. It was like Martin Luther at Worms saying: well, like saying: “Here I’ve evolved, I’ll be nudged no further – at least not today.”

So let’s review:

1. First, we have conceded that a dodgy, modernist, liberal experiential-expressivist form of theology of recent vintage (i.e. Feminist Theology) should be taken seriously by the Church in spite of its deficient anthropology, its cavalier rejection of revelation and utter capitulation to the fads of contemporary liberal society.

2. Second, we have conceded that the feminists are correct to argue that the language must be changed now because the great poets, the novelists, the historians, the scientists, the lawyers, the theologians and, well, everyone who wrote in English prior to 1960 was a Misogynist Thug (either consciously, the strict view, or unconsciously, the moderate view).

3. Third, we have conceded that in order to rectify this situation it is not enough to change the way we write today, and from now on, while leaving historical documents from the past (like poetry, hymns, liturgical prayers, the Bible etc.) as they were written. Instead, we must systematically alter the writings of past centuries lest certain, tender, modern sensibilities be offended.

4. Fourth, we have conceded that we should try not to think of God in male terms (such as “Father” or “Son”), but rather try to imagine him (oops! – imagine God) as either pure disembodied spirit or maybe in androgynous terms – at least when using pronouns.

But, we have our standards and they are high and shall never change; we shall not stop using the revealed name of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” of God. We shall, however, agree never to replace either “Father” or “Son” or “God” with a masculine pronoun.

Well, call me mean names like “fundamentalist” and “skeptical” but this appears to me to be much too little much too late; its smells more like General Custer than Martin Luther.

How can we make the concession regarding the pronoun and not regard this as anything other than the kind of temporary truce like Hamas is always talking about where they offer as a “generous concession” the pledge to take a few years off from trying to wipe Israel off the map in exchange for money, arms, world applause, and the Noble Peace Prize?

Some might say that the masculine pronoun is OK when replacing Jesus the man, but not when replacing the Triune God. But if so, they might want to think through exactly what is that they are thereby saying. Is not the whole point of the Nicene doctrine that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth? Does not the New Testament clearly say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? We don’t want to have to perform a hermeneutical analysis every time we use a pronoun as to whether it replaces Jesus in his humanity alone or God because the whole point of Trinitarian doctrine is that we want to be able to refer to them interchangeably and the pronoun is a highly useful tool in doing just that. He is God. That is a crucially important Christian thing to say.

The whole idea of not using the masculine pronoun for God but continuing to use the revealed names (Father, Son) simply does not make sense. To concede that it is wrong to speak of God using a masculine pronoun is to have already conceded the principle that we should not think of God in exclusively masculine terms. The only two alternatives, then, are gradually to move to an androgynous understanding of God or to begin to use both masculine and feminine terms for God. The only reason for not making the change overnight is that it takes time to acclimatize congregations to a new view of God (actually to a new god). Refusing to use the masculine pronoun for God and editing it out of the Bible is a compromise between truth and error, but it is also a half-way house on the way to complete destruction of the Biblical concept of God in the Church and also, therefore, the destruction of the Church itself.

1 comment:

Sue said...
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