Friday, September 03, 2010

People Keep Doing It. I'm Going To Keep Complaining.

OK, girls and boys, let's see how many errors we can spot. It will be good practice for "issue spotting," which will help us all to get A's in law school.

Though their worship includes elements from early Christianity, these practitioners are not Christians. They are pagans.

And they are part of a growing body of believers who have moved away from monotheistic faiths such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam into the wide world of syncretic spirituality.

Dear Peggy Fletcher Stack,

Were you asleep the day that they taught capitalization in 3rd grade? If, within the space of two sentences, you are going to capitalize the names of some religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), then you should capitalize the name of the one other religion you discuss: Paganism.

And don't give me the "category" argument. You know, the one that goes, well, xianity, Judaism, and Islam are specific religions, while Paganism is a category, so my discriminatory and demeaning capitalization rules make sense. Christianity is a category of religions. It includes Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists. Judaism is a category of religions. It includes Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Hassidic Jews, etc. Islam is a category of religions. It includes Sunnis, Sufis, Ahmadiyya, and Shi'a. Similarly, Paganism is a category of religions. It includes Wiccans, Druids, Asatru, and others. If you capitalize "Christian, Judaism, and Islam," then capitalize Pagan.


I'm not even going to bother with: "Though their worship includes elements from early Christianity . . . ." Because it shouldn't be necessary to point out that it was "early xianity" that included elements of Pagan worship, and not the other way around.

Picture found here.


Apuleius Platonicus said...

And the already incredibly vague and bloated category of Christianity would be even more diffuse if so much effort had not been expended over so many centuries (and at such terrible cost) to achieve theological conformity.

Thalia said...

I love you so much.

Are you writing to the authors/newspapers/sites too? It's occurred to me that the comments are not the best place to talk about it (not the least reason being that that makes it sound like its up for debate; plus, wrong audience). I need to come up with some kind of stock response I can tweak to send off to these places myself.

Thalia said...

Well I just sent this:

From your article today in the Salt Lake Tribune, "Pagan Pride Day to offer Utahns a peek at secretive but growing community":

Unfortunately, modern pagans often are secretive about their beliefs, fearing ridicule or, worse, outright discrimination.

And you can do your part in not furthering that ridicule and discrimination by capitalizing the word "Pagan", like you do in your article for all the other religions you mention. If you are talking about the modern revived religion, which you are here, then it is a capitalized proper noun, just like all the other ones. Not doing so makes it sound as if you are assuming it is not a valid religion.

Do please attend to this.

Thalia Took


I was not, I'll admit, feeling very polite, so there are no pleases or thank yous, and not even a 'Dear Peggy"; and that's just too damned bad. So sick of this crap.

Thalia said...

Huh. Got a response back from her saying that the AP style guide says not to capitalize it.

So I wrote:


Thank you for taking the time to respond to my letter.

The Associated Press style guide is incorrect or biased, then, and needs to be changed. And yes, it is true, "Paganism" is an umbrella term. As are "Christianity," "Judaism," and "Islam," as they each describe a family of religions. There are also some people who simply identify as "Pagan", rather than any of the individual Pagan religions like Asatru or Wicca, meaning that "Pagan" is applied to the name of a modern religion itself as well and is not only an umbrella term.

I appreciate that you mean no disrespect; however the lack of capitalization reads as disrespect, whether you mean for it to or not. What will a reader conclude from sentences like this? "Though their worship includes elements from early Christianity, these practitioners are not Christians. They are pagans."

I understand that it is a relatively new use for the word, and that when referring to, say, the non-Christians of classical Rome or Greece it has not been the practice to capitalize it. Perhaps that is what the style guide is assuming. But this is a different use. If "Christian," "Buddhist," "Zoroastrianism," "SanterĂ­a," "Vodou," "Shinto," "Hinduism," &c., are capitalized, then so are "Paganism" and "Pagan" when you are talking about the modern religion(s).

Thalia Took


We'll see how that goes.

Thalia said...

Incidentally, I don't agree with the old Classical use of 'pagan', lowercase P is right, either. You gonna tell me the religion of Socrates or Pythagoras wasn't a real religion? That's only Christianity, as the winner in history, smearing the competition. But that seemed a little too much to get into. :)

Medusa said...

Hurrah Hecate! Hurrah Thalia! FYI, newspapers can vary from the AP style book, if they so choose. In fact, they can draw up their own style book (I'm 99.44% sure that NY Times has their own style guide, for example.) The Salt Lake paper has made a decision to abide by the style guide, they can unmake it. (I've worked for publications using AP style guide, so I have some idea of what I'm talking about.) How much you wanna bet they have a list of exceptions to it that they use? But don't expect them to admit it. And frankly, they are only one paper among many. What bothers me somewhat is that there are Pagan bloggers who write the word this way: pagan. Maybe we have to get our act together first? Anyway,I'm planning to link back to this post in an upcoming review I'm doing of a book which lowercases the p while capitalizing the initial caps of other religions.


Thalia said...

That's really good to know, Medusa; thanks. I'm not a journalist, so I don't know what's what about this sort of thing. I went to the AP style guide website and poked around, but not being a subscriber I couldn't even find a place to leave a comment, never mind contact the editor. I suspect that AP, if called on it, would just say that's that what it says in Webster's, which was an answer to other types of questions there about capitalization (like for atheist, which I agree, probably shouldn't be capitalized, as by definition it is not a religion). Which, of course, doesn't mean Webster's always right, either. I mean technically the 'correct' pronoun to use when the gender of the subject is unknown is 'he'; that it's the 'correct' grammatical rule doesn't mean it isn't sexist.

As far as us getting our act together first: no. I mean, practically, sure, it would make it easier if we were in some kind of agreement, and so could present a united front; but as for needing to be in agreement for the media to treat us with some kind of basic respect: no.

Other movements and religions don't necessarily agree on everything within themselves; it is not fair to require or expect us to do so before we can expect what is really, the absolute bare minimum of respect: the name of our religion, and family of religions, being capitalized just like all the others.

I see it a lot. (And yes, this is almost a personal mission with me). Others justify not using the capital letters for Pagan by bringing up issues of disorganization, appropriation, &c. (I have seen this quite a lot with so-called progressives and among some feminists, especially the atheists). Capitalization is not dependent on someone's approval; they do not get to turn it into some kind of referendum on whether they approve of my religion or not. It is simply the most basic kind of common courtesy and decency to capitalize it.

Which you know. :) Anyway, if the requirement is that we Pagans agree on something, well, I for one ain't holding my breath.

(Also, I see your Ivory soap reference there.) :)

Medusa said...

Thalia, I agree getting any group to agree on something before taking action is probably futile. It was just an idealistic thought. I also went to the AP site (great minds....) Here's a link to a press release about a new edition of the stylebook and a number of its changes:

Also, if you look on the side, there is a link in case you want to contact AP. On that page is the following addy for general questions:
If you feel like pursuing this, one thing you might do is simply ask them if what the Salt Lake City paper says is AP style for Pagan is in fact AP style.

As you may remember from school, English is a living language. Living languages change. I have not found Webster's a good source for a lot of the terms we use because of a number of factors that eyestrain doesn't permit me to go into right now. Sweet dreams.