That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
March 6, 2018

Give me that new-time religion

It’s good enough for #MeToo


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Heather Mac Donald has recently commented on the #MeToo movement. Her thoughts are captured in the title: "#Mediocrity Too."

The thrust of her essay is that the flurry of allegations of sexual predation — true and false alike — in Hollywood and elsewhere will have the predictable result of increasing scrutiny into the "representation" of women in various occupations and businesses. As she writes, "Corporate diversity trainers already sense a windfall from #MeToo."

Miss Mac Donald cites a number of industries — particularly the arts — that will be injured by this scrutiny. But she missed, or at least did not mention, one area that the leftists long ago set their sights on, and in which they have been more successful than one might have initially expected.

I refer to religion, and in particular to Christianity. It seems that the Left considers that Heaven has been unfair to women, and simply has not made room for enough female deities. Now, it is hard to impose a quota system of deities on any religion that has only one God. But that being so, how are little girls in kindergarten going to have any self-confidence if there are no female deities? How can they be expected to be productive and "strong" if, when they raise their eyes to heaven in prayer, they see only a patriarchal God? And if Christian, not just a patriarchal God, but a Son as well. No daughters. No mommies.

(Unless they are worshipping at the St. Saviour Chapel of the Cathedral Church of St. John's in New York City, where they may adore an idol of a crucified female Christ, alias "Christa.")

The glass ceiling is bad enough, but a ceiling of clouds?

I cannot say whether the Episcopal Diocese of Washington was thinking of #MeToo recently, but at their annual convention, they voted to stop using masculine pronouns when referring to God in the next revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

I have no idea what arguments were used to arrive at this decision. Probably nothing that can be dignified with so Aristotelian a term as "argument." If one has any belief in the New Testament whatever, I would think that the spoken practices of the Person who knew God the best would count for something. (Anyone who wants to bring up Matthew 23, Verse 27 in rebuttal should first be willing to admit that he doesn't give a hoot for making sense, and will just repeat any absurd "argument" he heard from a priestess on a talk show.) Not that the modern Episcopal Church is known for its adherence to Holy Writ in any way. The tagline for the cathedral in Washington (frequently called the "National Cathedral," but there is no such thing in Anglican polity. It is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul) is "a house of prayer for all people." And this has been the justification for all sorts of non-Christian worship events and nonsensical ecumenical events to be conducted there. The phrase comes from the end of Isaiah 56, verse 7: "... for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." The passage varies but little from translation to translation.

But this is a deliberate, almost childish misuse. It is as though a man has said that revenge is sanctioned by God on the grounds that it says in the Bible, "Vengeance is mine." But the relevant passage continues, "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord. 'I will repay.'" One almost looks for atheists to claim that, according to Psalm 14, "There is no God."

Here is the passage the Cathedral PR mavens have chosen to distort: Isaiah 56, verses 6 and 7 (American Standard Version, 1902):

Also the foreigners that join themselves to Jehovah, to minister unto him, and to love the name of Jehovah, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
All people? Yes, but only after they had accepted the one true God and were obedient to his commands. I hate to say it, but that pretty much excludes Shintoists and Zoroastrians. Probably one or two other religions you can think of.

The Cathedral is also home to the biannual conferences of The Sacred Circles. The conferences of about a thousand women "are comprised [sic] of prominent keynote speakers, inclusive shared spiritual practices, and a multitude of workshops in order to engage the women in active and reflective spirituality and community. Sacred Circles is devoted to developing 'a deeply felt sense of women's spiritual community, woven by leaders in voice, dance and religious ritual from diverse faith traditions.'"

Lots of code words in that description. Whatever they may mean (and whatever they may really mean), somehow I don't see St. Therese of Lisieux in that picture.

So it was probably only a matter of time before the Washington Diocese got fed up with all this "Almighty God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ" stuff.

Their decision is, after all, only the logical consequence of adapting "inclusive language." I'm not entirely sure when that abomination made its way into liturgical practice. It may have been during one or another edition of the "common lectionaries" used by many Protestant churches, but since they are redone every year, unless one could find copies of the early texts, it would be difficult to make the case that "inclusive language" in Bible readings first appeared there.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989), billed as the most ecumenical Bible in English, is a different matter. I quote the relevant paragraph from the "To the Reader" preface:

During the almost half a century since the publication of the RSV, many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text. The mandates from the Division [i.e., the mandates given in 1980 to the Committee of translators by the Division of Education and Ministry of the National Council of Churches of Christ (which held the copyright of the RSV Bible)] specified that, in references to men and women, masculine-oriented language should be eliminated as far as this can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture. As can be appreciated, more than once the Committee found that the several mandates stood in tension and even in conflict. The various concerns had to be balanced case by case in order to provide a faithful and acceptable rendering without using contrived English. Only very occasionally has the pronoun "he" or "him" been retained in passages where the reference may have been to a woman as well as to a man; for example, in several legal texts in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In such instances of formal, legal language, the options of either putting the passage in the plural or of introducing additional nouns to avoid masculine pronouns in English seemed to the Committee to obscure the historic structure and literary character of the original. In the vast majority of cases, however, inclusiveness has been attained by simple rephrasing or by introducing plural forms when this does not distort the meaning of the passage. Of course, in narrative and in parable no attempt was made to generalize the sex of individual persons.
Seems harmless enough, as it is intended to seem. But consider Psalm 118, verse 26. In the King James Version (1611), it is, "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord," etc. Or the Revised Standard (1952): "Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord," etc. In the New Revised Standard, it became, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord," etc.

Does it matter? Not if you consider the Bible to be just a collection of ancient writings of talented men. But if it is sacred scripture and contains prophecy, there is a question that naturally arises: Is this verse a prophecy of Jesus (to whom it is applied in the New Testament)? The NRSV preface made it clear that when the reference was not to a specific person, the translators would avoid a masculine pronoun. Therefore, in this case, we must assume that the translators have determined that the verse is not prophetic. How did they know? They did not. They could not.

Comes now the question: how many other times in their translating did they make this same kind of choice, stripping away the prophetic content of the Scripture, quietly, in a way that only the most attentive would notice? True, any translator may mistake what appears to be a simple statement for a simple statement. But he is much less likely to make such a mistake if he doesn't deliberately cast his translation along principles governed by modern prejudices or fads. Maybe no one can be completely free of intellectual fads, but no one has to be deliberately enslaved to them.

In case the reader is unaware of the fact, I am not some brilliant Bible scholar or linguist. The translators were. So was this just a little mistake on their part? I think not. I think they deliberately set about de-sacralizing the text, perhaps not by explicit "mandate from the Division" but from the foreseeable consequence of their premises. I think it was a dishonest enterprise and no such mistake on their part would be made in good faith.

This is not just the work of liberalized Protestants, either. The Gospel readings for the Catholic mass are not free of the call for "inclusive language," sometimes with absurd results. The version of the Gospel of Luke (chapter 18, verse 10) that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has appointed to be read begins: "Two people went up to the temple area to pray." First, I have to wonder why "temple area"? Virtually any other translation you look at will just say "temple." The Greek is "ιερόν," but that's all just the kind of distraction that sometimes catches my attention. The real question is, why "people"? Later in this story, we are told who they are — a collector of Roman taxes and a Pharisee. And the masculine pronoun is used for each one. Are we to suppose that the USCCB allowed a masculine pronoun to be used for a female Pharisee? or a female tax collector? Or even that there were such things as female Pharisees and female tax collectors? Here the "inclusiveness" is pointless, except as a concession to radical feminist political sensibilities. And if they allow such sensibilities to control them in small matters, where else have they permitted it? (I could cite a grievous effort to naturalize a miracle in the translation they appoint, but I am not here concerned with that. Another distraction.)

Moreover, I assure you that there are plenty of Catholic priests who will not use the masculine pronoun for God, if they can help it. And I don't mean just priests who were ordained when Paul VI was Pope — younger ones as well. You can spot them if you listen carefully to their sermons. You will hear some awkward sentences along the lines of "God desires God's people to do God's will." And if you watch their mouths during the Creed, you can see that they do not say "he" where it occurs in the text. Whether they say anything at all, I cannot say.

Once you have permitted women to be your priests and bishops — or even just lectors or "lay Eucharistic ministers" — especially when it is not done as a result of measured thought processes that result (in effect) from slapping your forehead and saying, "Wait a minute! How could we have been so stupid!?!", but rather from the demands (DEMANDS, mind you, not petitions) from radical political feminism, or even just a desire to be "nice," it is only a matter of time before the language of worship must come under attack. A vignette as to the thinking that accompanies such changes: When I was working at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the day that the Diocese of Massachusetts elected a woman to be the first suffragan bishop in the Episcopal Church (February 11, 1989), the students rang the tower bell in celebration. (Note: the bell was never rung on Easter Sunday, if that matters.) One (female) seminarian was heard to ask another (female) seminarian, "What do you think the conservatives in the Church will do?" The other answered, "Who cares? In another 40 years, they're all dead."

Thus the advance of liberalism.

Whatever else is done the next time the Book of Common Prayer is revised, however, you can be sure that the masculine pronoun will survive when it refers to Satan or to any of the demons cast out by Christ. There is no clamoring that the demons of hell be female, no clamoring that worshippers identify a Princess of Darkness.

Maybe it is because the harridans of #MeToo have already broken the brimstone ceiling. Ω

March 6, 2018

Published in 2018 by WTM Enterprises.

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