Sunday, July 5, 2009

Language Lesson

I do wish that the feminists who hijacked the liturgy and took charge of revising the language of the church to be "inclusive" could have met my third grade teacher. Elvy Deloris Hatfield (yes, those Hatfields) Lancaster Land had a cloud of silver-white hair, and a no-nonsense attitude. She stood before us every day dressed in frilly blouses and tailored skirts, drilling into our often unwilling heads the intricacies of primary learning,including a subject now long forgotten: the grammar of the King's English.

It took me all of one afternoon to assimilate three important lessons about the same:

(1) In English, the neutral pronoun is "he." Unless there is an antecedent that is a real and identifiably male, "he" doesn't connote gender at all.
(2) Pronouns and antecedents must agree in number as well as gender. Hence, if the antecedent is everybody, someone,or none (all singular) the following possessive pronoun must be singular as well--his, not their .
(3) Anyone who doesn't get this, or reads into it some grand, cosmic conspiracy against women has too much time and too few worries on his hands.

It's bad enough that my children's English teachers regularly matched "everyone" and "their" in both speech and writing. What really annoys me is the complete laundering of hymns and scripture translations of anything that the perpetually-aggrieved feminists perceive as "gender exclusive" language.

After all, it's obvious that Christ, and the followers who composed such towering monuments to Christian faith, really believed that only men were saved, right? When the hymnodist wrote Good Christian Men, Rejoice, he clearly meant to exclude his wife, sisters and mother, right?

I can understand that individual sensitivities might make certain folks uncomfortable with this or that portions of scripture, or this or this or that sentiment expressed in song or literature. So I have a suggestion--either learn to accept it in the spirit it was written,or write brand new works to express one's own thoughts and needs. Don't go messing around with someone else's carefully crafted work. Only the original author has that authority.

Language carries with it not only meaning but nuance, and much of that is built into the structure and history of the words. Alter the words, and you alter the meaning. Consider, for example, a traditional form of the wedding vows: What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. Modern sensibilities tend to render this as let no one put asunder. The former commands all of us as a people, a corporate body, a created work to avoid stepping on the Father's prerogatives; the latter is a personal admonition to individuals and loses much of its power. In responsibility as well as in battle, there is great strength in numbers.

The same is true for most of the revisions of music. Changing born to raise the sons of earth to born to raise us from the earth not only destroys the beauty of the parallel it brings to mind--sons of earth as opposed to Son of God--it also takes an idea form the universal to the personal. I suppose that isn't surprising, given the narcissistic nature of modern woman, but it flies in the face of one of the greater principles of Christian faith.

If I didn't object to these "inclusive language" changes on any other ground, I'd dislike them merely because they destroy the beauty and rhythm of language. When Jesus says to his fishermen-disciples Follow me and I will make you fishers of men, the play on words is lovely and emphatic. By contrast, Follow me and I will make you fish for people is graceless, thudding, and dull. The language Jesus spoke was rich in word-play and so is English. To fail to use it is to deny ourselves a great tool in teaching the faith.

More to the point, does anyone reading that particular passage really believe Christ means to extend salvation to male human beings alone? And if so, isn't the problem far deeper than one of mere syntax,and doesn't it require a deeper fix?

Sometimes this push for inclusive language reaches truly ridiculous levels. Consider, for example, those who object to referring to God as Father because of feminist proclivities. It seems to me that the language of faith handed down to us by Christ Himself ought to bear some weight. If He referred to God as Father, there must be some merit in that. God knows (He really does) that there are those of us who have had trouble relating to earthly fathers--and Jesus used that Patriarchal term anyway. He did so for a reason, and thus, the term has merit for us. And it's up to us to find that merit in our own lives, despite our own handicaps of experience or preference. And I suspect, from a close reading of scripture, that if we put our own handicaps aside and ask for that grace, we'll get it.

Perhaps the most absurd manifestation of this total aversion to all things male is in the revision of the hymn God in Man Made Manifest. The last time I checked, Christ was, in fact, a man, a real, live, living, breathing, human man. So would someone please explain to me the reason for rephrasing this line as God in flesh made manifest. It eliminates a wonderful sentiment--that God Himself took human form and dwelt among us, by excising a term we apply to our own kind--man. We don't customarily refer to ourselves as "flesh." Doing so in this context reduces the Incarnation to something that sounds more like it belongs in the local market than to something we must bring into our own hearts.

Words mean something, and changing words means something else. In this case, the "inclusive" language of feminists excludes me and it it excludes them too, whether they know it or not It excludes me from the rich tradition of all the saints, men and women, who have gone before and somehow managed to come to a lively, sacrificial and loving experience of God in spite of such intensely "male-dominated" language. It excludes me from the need to change my views to transcend my biases and tells me that personal whims trump the message in the modern world-- that if I don't like the way in which God and His people use language to communicate with me, I am free to reject the message itself, for form is greater than substance.

I think the message is greater than that.

1 comment:

  1. beautifully said -
    you're a gal of my heart.