Wednesday, June 01, 2022

How political correct language undermines the Gospel (and much more)

The world, according to Christianity and much of classical antiquity, is populated by things with stable natures, like fire and water, gold and silver, dogs and cats, and men and women. These things are what they are, and are not somethe else. The strength of this view lies in seeing the world as it is, rather than as some might wish it to be. But a war is being waged against this ancient view. Examples include: Nominalism (from the Latin 'nomen' for 'name'), which attacked this view, insisting that common names like 'dog' and 'cat' don't refer to anything real outside our minds but are only 'names' arbitrarily assigned to things. Darwinism attacked it, insisting that 'species' is a term arbitrarily assigned to a phase of an evolutionary continuum, and that nothing remains unchanging. Postmodern Deconstructionsism attacked it, insisting that it was part of a metanarrative that was no more than a social construct. Transgenderism attacks it, insisting that one's 'gender' is also a social construct arbirarily assigned at birth. As R. R. Reno recently noted in his First Things column:
Ze and Zir are easy to mock and ridicule. But the now-ubiquitous use of “them” as a singular pronoun shows how deeply all of us are now implicated in the rebellion against bodily reality. -- R. R. Reno, "Transgenderism: Escaping Limits," First Things (June 2022).
Students these days end up writing the most tortured grammatical contortions, like this:
If a human being is not an end in themselves, they can more easily be seen as a 'burden to society' if they cannot make a 'contribution.'
Everyone thinks they are a theologian, and begin misapplying theological arguments, or even argue themselves headlong over the edge, into sedevacantism.
Any foreigner trying to master the logic of English grammar would find such sentences, for all their 'political correctness,' grammatically unintelligible. I don't know of any European language being flogged into such torgured contortions as English over politically correct allergies. Almost all continue to use masculine pronouns inclusively. And Asian languages, so far as I know, have not succumbed to the contortions now fashionable in English.

Peter Kreeft noted the problems with language of this kind in a footnote in one of his philosophy books:
"Man" means "mankind," not "males." It is traditional inclusive language. "Humanity" does not go with "God" ("God and humanity") because "God " and "man" are concrete nouns, like "dog" and "cat," while "divinity" and "humanity" are abstract nouns, like "canininity" and "felinity" or "dogginess" and "cattiness." Whatever the political or psychological uses or misuses of these words, that is what they mean. We do not undo old injustices against women by doing new injustices against language." -- Peter Kreeft, Philosophy 101 By Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2002), p. 9n1.
Kreeft notes the tendency towards abstraction in such language, a retreat from the concrete and the real. But I would go farther. I would retrieve Reno's point about our complicity in the rebellion against bodily reality when we use such language.

In the earlier form of the English Mass, when I was first received into the Catholic Church in 1993, when we came to the response: "Let us give Him thanks and praise," many individuals with an allergy to masculine inclusive pronouns for God would subsitutute: "Let us give God thanks and praise." It sounded innocent enough. But there is a Gnostic presumption at work here that one can get behind the language of Scripture and the Church to the supposed 'reality' of a God beyond gender. Woe betide the day God became Incarnate as a man! Such deconstructionists want to unmake the genetic design revealed in Scripture. One can imagine where such logic might lead. Imagine the resulting translatin of John 3:16 --
For God so loved God's world that God gave God's only Child that whoever believes in them/Zem/Xem shall not perish but have eternal life.
Again, as Reno says about 'Ze' and 'Zir,' it's easy to mock and ridicule such caricatures, but the challenge is real. Once we capitulate to using the language of the revolt against nature, we undermine the metaphysical foundations of the Gospel. If St. Paul's syllogism in 1 Corinthians 15 about Christ's resurrection means anything, it is that our own redemption rests on Christ's being the New Adam and having taken on the human nature of the Old Adam and redeemed it. If He rose from the dead, we may hope that we, too, who have been incorporated into His mystical Body, shall also be resurrected in the world to come.

But all of this depends on there being such a thing as "human nature" for Christ to take on and redeem as the New Adam. If there is no such thing and if Christ be not risen, then as Paul says, "we are of all men the most miserable."

What does resistance require? Is it enough that we resist using Ze, Zir, Zem, Zeir, Xe, Xir, Xem, Xeir? Is it enough that we use good grammar and refuse to mix singular nouns with plural pronouns like they, them, themselves, etc? Is it enough to avoid using God or Godself repeatedly instead of personal pronouns for God? All of that would help, of course. But my own view is that we have to return to the inclusive use of the masculine pronouns as suggested by Peter Kreeft above. As he notes elsewhere, a consolation to the contemporary feminist might be found in metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ, since, in relation to the Bridegroom, all men, along with women, are feminine in relation to the heavenly Bridegroom! I will not go into the metaphysical foundations for the inclusive use of masculine pronouns represented in Genesis, where Eve was created from a rib removed from the sleeping body of the Adam, or in biblical passages like 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, long unfamiliar with Catholics because excluded from the 'short form' of their Novus Ordo lectionary readings.

But in the transgender movement, one can more clearly see the animus at work, and that it isn't just about language. It is about unmaking the objective order of nature, or, if you prefer, the Creation Order. J. Budziszewski, in his book about natural law, What We Can't Not Know, references in this connection a very ancient Greek word: γοητεία (goēteía). The word is associated with occult demonology and witchcraft, and Budzieszewski links it to the sorts of impulses one finds in the revolt against being, not merely in radical examples like Aleister Crowley, but even in the currently more mainstreamed dispositions found in LGBTQ+ communities. The point would be that even in subtle and now widely-accepted ways, the revolt against nature has found a home in contemporary language and habits.

The resistence can also begin with language that used to be mainstream. The contemporary allergy against use of expressions like 'mankind' involves neither a recent discovery that women are also members of the human family nor an effort to clarify a puzzling expression. I don't know of any woman visiting a zoo who saw a sign on a door that said "DANGER! MAN EATING TIGER" and would assume the warning didn't apply to her because she wasn't a biological man. As Kreeft notes, words like "man" and "woman" are strong nouns, not anemic abstractions like "humanity." They deserve to be recalled into service. I will not reference the contraction H. L. Mencken made of "he-or-she-ior-it," but it's clear enough what he would have thought of our contemporary lingistic inclinations.

Let me conclude by 'correcting' the earlier sentences butchered by political correctness. Let the reader judge whether he would agree with me that the traditional inclusive forms are much more natural and lucid.
If a human being is not an end in themselves, they can more easily be seen as a 'burden to society' if they cannot make a 'contribution.'

Corrected: If a man is not an end-in-himself, he an more easily be seen as a 'burden to society.'
Everyone thinks they are a theologian, and begin misapplying theological arguments, or even argue themselves headlong over the edge, into sedevacantism.

Corrected: Everyone thinks he is a theolgian and begins misapplying theological arguments or even to argue himself headlong over the edge into sedevacantism.
And finally:
For God so loved God's world that God gave God's only Child that whoever believes in them/Zem/Xem shall not perish but have eternal life.

Corrected: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.