American society has spawned a group of individuals who make an industry of being offended and whose favorite sentence is “I’m outraged.” There are times I wish to tell them to take their outrage and stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine. These fascists wish to change the language people speak to reflect their political views of what reality ought to be in terms of race, class, gender, and “sexual orientation.” Instead of language being a slow product of societal evolution, they believe language can be controlled by an elite group so that people must speak and write the language of those elite–or else.
An example is the so-called “non-sexist language” that has been forced on academia. For centuries, the English language used the terms “man” and “mankind” to refer to people of both sexes, and everyone recognized that this implied no favoritism of men over women. And though these critics point out that “they” was used as the singular for both sexes in the eighteenth century, for three hundred years “he” has been used–”they” in the eighteenth century was part of the normal evolution of language. “They” used today as a singular term is an artificial imposition that no one would use who wishes to write in good literary form. Academics have told me privately that they agree with me that the traditional terms for the human race were not sexist–but in public they tow the party line. While this is cowardly in one sense, in another sense it is a matter of survival, for the linguistic fascists have the political power in academia.
Over the years I have learned to write more elegantly in “gender-inclusive language” since many journals require it–but it is a difficult task. But on this blog I will use traditional terminology, and I generally do so in my public speaking and private conversation. There is one area in which I refuse to use “gender-inclusive language,” and that is with language about God.
Although it is true that the Bible uses both masculine and feminine imagery about God–God in His Being is neither male nor female–in direct address He is referred to as “Father,” not as “Mother.” I used to believe that God could be addressed as both because I did not understand the reason for the exclusively masculine form of address. In the Christian tradition, God is both transcendent and immanent. If God were called “Mother,” this would tend to overemphasize the immanence of God–the image “Mother” reminds one too much of “Mother Earth.” It is more of a pantheistic image than a theistic image. God as Father emphasizes both distance and closeness–both transcendence and immanence. I believe these to be natural images rooted in real differences between men and women. I have heard too many prayers by liberal ministers who use the term “Godself”–I gag every time I hear it. There are theological journals who require “inclusive language” about God–I will not send an article to those journals, for such would violate my religious beliefs. Linguistic fascism wins out in those journals.
Students are taught such pablum in schools, especially the singular “they”–and I cannot count off for such usage in their papers. I would if I could. Most ordinary people continue to use traditional language, and in recent years “man,” “mankind,” and “chairman” have come back into vogue in many news broadcasts. In academia a committee chairman is a piece of furniture, a “chair.” I wonder how they tolerate a term such as “humankind” since that word has “man” in it. Perhaps academic fascists will change the spelling to “humynkind.”
Academics live a sheltered life that emphasizes coming up with new ideas for newness sake. That trend, combined with the influence of the 1960s radicals on academia, have stifled intellectual freedom in many places. Part of such stifling of freedom is imposing politically correct language on professors and students, to the point that some professors will penalize students’ grades if they use traditional language for both sexes.
What can be done? Academics who are in “safer” places need to speak up more against academic fascism, including linguistic fascism. Those whose jobs would be in trouble if they spoke up can talk to those people, including students, whom they trust. The process will be “three steps forward, two steps back,” and there is a risk of failure–but such risk is worth standing up to intellectual totalitarians.