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God Squad: How word choices affect others

Q: In your recent article on Temple history you again went politically correct and used the ultimate form of subtle bigotry against Christianity by changing history to suit secular society with the terms BCE and CE. How is it that something so significant happened 2,017 years ago that mankind started recording time with BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) that historians and secular nonbelievers suddenly think they can change history and eliminate Jesus? TYour true colors are showing. I’ve truly enjoyed the God Squad over the years, but you can now consider me a former reader. — B, from Wisconsin, via email

A: I am not politically correct in many ways, but I am definitely politically correct in one essential way. I think the question of whether a term of usage in English should be considered offensive is up to the person being offended, not the person giving offense.

In the 1960s, some women began to take offense at having to identify themselves as either married (Mrs.) or single (Miss) in a formal address, whereas men were always Mr. regardless of their marital status. I felt at first that this was a bit silly because I did not consider marriage to be a derogatory state. Over time, however, I came to fully understand that this linguistic convention brought discomfort and a feeling of discrimination to women, and so I adopted Ms. as the appropriate linguistic fix.

So I ask you to humbly consider whether forcing non-Christians (not just Jews) to refer to the secular year as either “Before the Messiah” or “The Year of Our Lord” is fair. Especially when the people who do not believe it is fair are discomforted by being forced to make a theological affirmation that they do not believe every time they refer to the year.

Tommy, like you, did not get this at first and although he obviously continued the BC/AD in his correspondence, he completely agreed that in our joint column we ought to use the BCE/CE form. This is not an insult or a form of bigotry against Christians. It is just a theologically neutral term for referring to the secular year. It is not politically correct. It is just a fair way to refer to the year.

BC/AD is not the only linguistic adjustment needed to include all the climbers on the same mountain to the same God. Consider what message is communicated when the Hebrew Bible is referred to as merely the “Old Testament.” One cannot have an Old Testament without a New Testament and non-Christians do not believe in the New Testament as divine revelation, though, of course, it is believed to be a collection of deep spiritual wisdom through the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, a division between “The Hebrew Bible” and “The Christian Testament” solves that problem.

You should know that linguistic sensitivity cuts both ways. I remember vividly one day when I was with Father Tom and I dropped a heavy object (OK it was my golf bag) on my foot. I shouted “Jesus Christ!” After I stopped moaning, Tommy asked me not to do that again. I said, “You mean dropping my golf bag on my foot?” He said, “No, please don’t use Jesus Christ as a swear word any more. Jesus is the Christ to me. His name is a name of joy and thanks and praise to me. It is not a curse word.”

I was properly chastened and, since that day, I have chosen my swear words from a more conventional and definitely unprintable list. I did not think anything was wrong with my linguistic choices, but I was wrong.

I believe in many of Jesus’ teachings. I am informed by them and uplifted by them and quote them more than any rabbi you will ever meet. Let me encourage you to open your heart to the possibility that prejudice can be both real and inadvertent at the same time.

A teacher once asked his student, “Do you love me?” The student answered, “Yes, my teacher, I love you.” The teacher asked the student, “Do you know what hurts me?” The bewildered student answered, “No master, I do not know what hurts you.” And the teacher said, “If you do not know what hurts me, then how can you love me?”

Let us try to know each other.

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