Inclusive Language

Web Site E-Mail Dialogue from December 1999

Dear Abercius24,
    I'm Dolly, a good friend of Kerry.  She sends me some of your responses to questions posed to you.  You are a WONDERFUL apologist!  That's what has compelled me to ask your advice.  What is your opinion on "Inclusive Language" in certain bibles?  A priest told me it was to include ALL people.  It is not meant to be a feminist issue, as Mother Angelica of EWTN states.  I'm an avid viewer of Mother Angelica's network and I believe she's obedient to the Church, but this issue makes me think, "Well than ... how many times was the intent of the writing changed in the bible??"  Thank you and I'll await your reply.

Yours in Christ,
Dolly

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Dear Dolly,
     On the moral perspective, inclusive language is not necessarily evil.  In the interests of unity and and integrity toward the gift of Sacred Scripture, the Church does not allow inclusive language during the liturgy (see the Holy See's Translation Norms issued by Cardinal Ratzinger to the U.S. Bishops).

     From the perspective of effective evangelization, I think inclusive language can cater to biases and narrow thinking if it's not used sparingly--as a stepping stone to a greater understanding.  Scripture and the Church both teach that man and woman are compliments to each other--two pieces of the puzzle that complete the picture.  They also teach that God created the human race starting with man--Adam--and thereby refer to the human race as "mankind."

     Yes, Eve was very important to the propagation of mankind.  Adam would have been useless in bringing forth his line without Eve.  God did a wonderful thing when He made man dependent on the power of woman.  As well, God did a wonderful thing when He started the human race from man.  Both are wonderful because they both come from God.  Inclusive language--particular to such changes as "mankind" to "personkind"--seems to value the one perspective (the power of woman) and devalue the other (mankind started from man).  It's a subtle attempt to make God's work in having created man first as something insignificant.

     The idea behind such inclusive language is that historically used terms such as "mankind" seem to make man more important than woman.  Yes, some men have historically abused that idea.  But that isn't the true reason that God intended.  The original reason was NOT to devalue woman, but to give a value to man.  For example, it's like God having given you a special name as a gift to you.  It's a very special gift that God intended you to cherish.  Yet, I refuse to call you by that name because I think God should have given me a special name, too.  My attitude would be destructive and childish.  If I love God, I should be happy that God gave you such a wonderful gift.  I shouldn't be jealous.  Similarly, you shouldn't gloat and make yourself seem as more important than me just because you have that particular gift.  God gives each of us many different gifts in many different ways.  We should be happy that God chose man to be created first.  That gift is an honor that we should recognize to glorify God.

     Now, the problem with "feminist" inclusive language (as Mother Angelica refers to it), is that it takes away the gift that God gave to man.  "Personkind" sterilizes the gift in an attempt to stop men from abusing it.  "Mankind" recognizes that gift in its true form.  Just because some (or, historically, even most) men have abused the gift by gloating over it doesn't justify women to not glorify God for having originally given the gift.  We are called to be better than the sinners (an abuse of God's gifts is a definition of sin).  We are called to be good examples to them.  We should not eliminate recognition of God's gift to man.  We should wholeheartedly recognize the gift and urge those who would abuse the gift to cherish the it with humility.  We should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

     So, though inclusive language might be useful in bringing some people to a basic understanding of the gospel and the scriptures, it has it's limitations and thereby should only be a stepping stone and not the norm.  We should teach all aspects of the gospel from all perspectives (as God sees it) and urge each other to love God in all possible ways more and more each day.  God bless.

In Christ,
Steve S. aka Abercius24
Editor of CatholicQandA.com





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Copyright 1999 CatholicQandA.com.  All rights reserved. The original letter was altered by Abercius24 to improve legibility and protect the identity of the participants.