Inclusive language: 'eventually all nonsense implodes upon itself'

Inclusive language: 'eventually all nonsense implodes upon itself'

Gerald Wilson

The demand within parts of the Catholic Church for inclusive language for use in the Bible, the Mass and other parts of the liturgy has increased in recent years. However, this demand has not come from the pews or from any groups representative of the Church's grass roots. Rather, it reflects the efforts of well-placed people within the Church's local administrations to bring religious practices into conformity with questionable policies in the secular world.

Inclusive language, that form of gender neutral language designed to include women by eliminating male nouns and pronouns and also male generic terms where both men and women are meant, has made significant inroads into secular usage in the media and academia, if not in popular, everyday usage. Such terms as "salesperson," "chairperson" or "humankind" are all too familiar.

Grammatical rules

This trend even extends to well known, traditional maxims. Thus we may no longer say that "all men are brothers" or that "man does not live by bread alone", to give but two examples of generic statements. We must now say that "all men and women (or "all people") are brothers and sisters" and "no one lives by bread alone."

The obsession to emasculate the language extends even to the infringement of simple, obvious grammatical rules we learned, or should have learned, at school. Thus, the words of an obiter dictum of former Archbishop Fisher of Canterbury, "Everyone must be allowed the exercise of his own particular genius," would now have to be rendered by the grammatically incorrect "Everyone must be allowed to exercise their own particular genius." Anything is permitted to avoid a male possessive adjective; and there are many examples of this usage or misusage, extending down to the scarcely believable "to each their own", a veritable 'inclusive howler.'

From the foregoing examples it is obvious that inclusive language is destroying traditional English verbally and grammatically. The method of introducing inclusive language is a progressive process and begins with the gradual and systematic modification of certain words and expressions to conform to a minority ideological agenda. This language is slowly accepted and necessarily leads to new ways of thinking – the invariable consequence of language change.

This in turn will lead to the demand for still further changes because behind the assumptions of the use of inclusive language is the belief that English will inevitably move to gender inclusive terms. And so still further changes will follow until the desired objective has been achieved.

Msgr Robert Sokolowsky of the Catholic University of America (L'Osservatore Romano, 3.3.93) has expressed serious concern about the consequences of inclusive language: "The acceptance of inclusive language will in principle concede the claim that the traditional form of English has something morally wrong or insensitive about it, that it is in some way unjust to women … Furthermore, it will cast a shadow of immorality or insensitivity on earlier writers ...".

Sokolowsky thus describes the effect of inclusive language on the mother tongue: "The violence done to English by the device of inclusive language calls to mind the damage done to the tradition of Christian art by the Puritans and by the participants in the French Revolution, who smashed statues and stained glass windows in a desire to make everything new; in the present case it is the English language that is being smashed. We are dealing with an iconoclasm of language."

A fundamental objection to inclusive language is its artificiality. It does not represent the natural organic development of the English language. As it has been forced on the language for social and political reasons, it also carries with it the danger that what it seeks to communicate will not be the contents of the original message. Its imposed artificial vocabulary seeks to assign new meanings to familiar words and expressions. Change the language and you change minds!

In his novel, 1984, published in 1948, George Orwell describes an England under a totalitarian dictatorship and as part of its plan for complete control it imposes on the population a language called Newspeak. Orwell seems to have had more prescience in the matter of language than he realised: Newspeak materialised as inclusive language some thirty years later.

Traditional texts

In the current climate of the Church it would indeed be surprising if eccesiastical language had not attracted the attention of the linguistically disaffected within. The efforts of these people to subvert standard traditional texts which they find offensive have become increasingly daring. Thus, the following inclusive and gender-neutral version of the sign of the cross has been proposed: "In the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier. So may it be" (see Donna Steichen, UngodlyRage, p. 103).

The error here - and it is one of faith - is that the Trinity is not three functions in one God, but three persons, really distinct but equal in all things, indivisibly united in one God. It is therefore incorrect to limit creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. One wonders just how the new censors will deal with the task of "desexing" Acts 15:1? Here St Luke says "But some came down from Judea and began to teach the 'brethren', saying: 'Unless you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved'." Will "brothers and sisters" replace "brethren"?

A far more serious misuse of inclusive language in the Church is the shift from calling God "Father" as seen above in a formula for the sign of the cross. Here the new names render God as both impersonal and distant and not only contradict the Christian understanding of God as personal and loving but are unintelligible to the ordinary Christian. Who can adore a Trinity which, instead of being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is reduced to a remote committee of three: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier? Since the beginning, man has built shrines to a God who has a Name. How many Athenians worshipped at the altar of the Unknown God on the Areopagus'? History records no martyrs who suffered for the Unknown God.

Some priests have attempted to solve the matter of names by praying to "God who is Father and Mother of us all" in 'progressive' liturgies. The problem created by this shift is summed up by Fr Paul Mankowski SJ (Crisis, Vol. 9, 1991, p. 23) who writes: "The acknowledgement of God as Father is an essential part of Christian kerygma: it is unarguably the belief of the Catholic Church. The priest may responsibly take prudent measures not to give casual offence, but if he 'adapts' the wording to 'Parent' or 'Mother/Father', he has forsaken that very doctrine which he was entrusted to pass on in the liturgy; he promotes disunity."

Christian truths

Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (The Rat-zinger Report, p. 78), states that it is certainly not accidental that the Apostles' Creed begins with the confession: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth." This primordial faith in the Creator God (a God who is really God) forms a pivot as it were, about which all other Christian truths turn. The strongest reason for calling God Father, from the Christian point of view, is that God himself through the scriptures has told us how to speak of him. In all scriptures, in both the Old Testament and the New, God is never called Mother. Historically, religions that call God Mother are pantheistic (viewing God and creation as basically one and the same thing).

William Oddie, formerly an Anglican pastor and now a Catholic, reminds us that in the whole of the Old Testament God is described as Father 11 times. Jesus, in startling contrast, uses the term at least 170 times, and, except for the cry of dereliction from the cross, always uses this form of address and no other. The unfailing use of this form of address by Jesus confirms our belief that to call God Father is an integral part of Christ's revelation (What Will Happen to God? p. 104).

The growing, unrepresentative demand for inclusive language within the Catholic Church has come from strategically placed academics, 'experts' and bureaucrats, not infrequently males, who claim that female sensibilities are ravaged by the presence of masculine terms and pronouns in ecclesiastical language generally. Yet nowhere has it been demonstrated that inclusive language is what women either need or want; nor that women have been excluded from English discourse for the last thousand years. It is an issue that has never been debated; the discussion has been totally one-sided.

Generic or traditional English, which has lasted at least a thousand years, is inclusive and was intended to be. That is why it is called "generic". Did any woman, feminist or otherwise, feel "excluded" by generic language before, say, AD 1970? A poll conducted by Time magazine (22.6.92) showed that only 36% of Catholic women (but 48% of men) thought that terms like "men," referring to humanity, should be avoided in worship. A mere 22% of women (and 27% of men) wanted the Church to eliminate "he" or "Father" in praying to God. If a similar poll were taken here in Australia, the result would most likely be similar.

So, where does all this leave the ordinary practising Catholics who are struggling to maintain and retain orthodoxy in doctrine and worship? Do they really need this kind of language? Have they ever been consulted? And by what authority is it being introduced or, rather, imposed? Has it made the parishioners in those parishes where it has been introduced better Catholics?

Of equal importance, has it increased Mass attendances? These are questions that concern the whole Church and its future.

One wonders just what benefits could be derived from the substitution of ungainly polysyllabic terms for the elegant economy, grace and undertones of reverence of the traditional language.

This language is not only part of the heritage of the mother tongue but has also provided worshippers with a sense of stability and a feeling of comfort in times of grief, as well as joy, and in times of celebration. Inclusive language is hardly a fitting heritage for our descendants.

The move to introduce inclusive language into the scriptures and the liturgy, therefore, if successful, threatens to obliterate many traditional terms which are part of our linguistic heritage by replacing them with unwieldy, artificial substitutes and to change the theological perceptions and eventually the beliefs of the "ordinary Catholic in the pew," because lex orandi is lex credendi: the law of prayer establishes the law of belief; the liturgy is the school of faith; and the way one prays ultimately determines for better or worse the way or what one believes.

Signs of hope

There are, however, signs of hope. The Vatican's Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy, only recently made public (see September 1997 AD2000), indicates the Church's official limits on the use of inclusive language for pastoral and liturgical readings. These directives, if heeded, will go far to ensuring doctrinal integrity and to curbing the literary vandalism that has been perpetrated so far.

A hint of a reversal of the trend to inclusive language in the secular world may be discerned from the CNN News Hour (SBS-TV, Monday to Friday). If the author's observations after watching the program over a period of a few months signify anything, it would seem that the traditional "chairman" is starting to make a comeback, even in the United States. Who was it who said: "Eventually, all nonsense implodes upon itself"?

Dr Gerald Wilson, a retired scientist with a distinguished career in Australia and overseas, has contributed to the religious and secular press in recent years.

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