Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Again With The Capitalization Problems


We don’t ask the question ‘What does God want me to do,’ but rather ‘Why do humans behave this way?’” Mirecki said. “It’s more of an anthropological than a theological question. So we’re not looking for the answer that a religion might provide. We’re looking more toward why humans construct reality in this way. In a Muslim way, in a Catholic way, a Southern Baptist way, in a pagan way, whatever the religion might be.”


There are 41 religious student organizations registered on campus this school year. Most of the organizations are based in Christianity with a few Muslim and Jewish groups. One organization that stands out is KU Cauldron, the student pagan group.

The second example, in particular, belies the notion that "Pagan" doesn't get capitalized because it's just a generic grouping, rather than a specific religion. If that were the rule being followed, then "christianity," "muslim," and "jewish" shouldn't be capitalized. (Find it a bit jarring to see those religions not capitalized? That's how I feel when I see mine written about in lower case while others are capitalized.) Here's another example of the exact same problem:

A pagan religion is loosely defined as believing in polytheism, a belief in more than one god, or not pertaining to the beliefs in Christianity, Judaism or Islam. That's not only a pretty shitty definition, it's poor usage.

This isn't difficult, people. Either capitalize the names of all religions, or don't capitalize the names of any. And don't tell me it doesn't matter. If it doesn't matter to you, then all the more reason to do it just to be polite.

Gif found here.


nanoboy said...

Food for thought. I guess that for a lot of folks, "Pagan"/"pagan" is a pretty generic term for a lot of things. Maybe Neopagan and Wiccan should be capitalized. I mean, we don't capitalize monotheism. We capitalize Abrahamic, but that might be more because the name is derived from a person's name.

Thalia Took said...

No fucking kidding, Hecate; this one drives me up the fucking wall. I have seen people who really, REALLY, ought to know better refusing to capitalize Pagan. I've seen radical feminists actually argue that since bell hooks doesn't capitalize her name then they have a right not to capitalize Pagan. I know; it's not even logic. Or progressive blogsters go on and on about appropriation and colonialism as ways of explaining why Paganism shouldn't be capitalized, or something, all the while capitalizing Christian, Muslim, &c. Assholes.

Thalia Took said...

Wow, THAT was profanity-laden. Hit a nerve.

Anonymous said... "So they’re the ones who don’t like the greeting “Merry Christmas!” I kid. Anyway, the big question I had after reading this story was why these atheists felt more comfortable celebrating the holiday in a Pagan manner than in a Christian manner. (Yes, I capitalize Pagan — the AP Stylebook jury is still out.)" I find this messy article to be slightly unsettling (bad writer, always points back to him being Christian) although the stuff about Athiests is kinda neat. It might be worth for you to check out.

Sha said...

I don't capitalize "pagan" for the same reason I don't capitalize "monotheism" "animism" "religion" or "atheist." It isn't a religion.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, these are all specific religions. Christianity might cover a lot of paths, but they all share the same core. The same is not true of paganism.

Christianity is not an umbrella term in the same way that paganism is an umbrella term. It's more akin to "Wicca" with the different denominations equating to the different traditions of Wicca, such as Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca.

It would be one thing if people weren't capitalizing Wicca, Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionism and other specific religions, but they're not, they're just not capitalizing a general descriptor.

Not capitalizing pagan isn't a dig, it's acknowledgment that it isn't a religion but rather a term that covers a wide range of often disparate religions.

If you want to capitalize the word, no one's going to stop you, but you might want to reconsider before you assume that those who don't capitalize it are doing so to subtly suggest that pagan paths are somehow inferior on invalid.

Just some thoughts from a proud pagan who doesn't capitalize the word because it isn't grammatically necessary.

@nanoboy: Abrahamic is capitalized for exactly the reason you suggest. It's the same as the way we capitalize "Mendelian" when we're talking about genetics :]

@Thalia Took: I don't capitalize pagan, but I agree that the bell hooks "logic" doesn't work. If someone develops the azmototh religion and decides that it should not be capitalized for whatever reason, that's one thing.

Someone else deciding not to capitalize a proper noun that doesn't "belong" to them (so to speak) would be more akin to a person deciding not to capitalize someone else's name.

I just don't consider pagan to be a proper noun is all. No doubt there are others who feel differently.

Sha said...

Huh. Not sure how "animism" came out when the word I had planned to put there was "reconstructionism" but I suppose it all makes the same point...