The value of gender-neutral language, particularly in books about spiritual issues, is in both inclusivity and accuracy. Referring to God as “God,” as opposed to “He,” conveys a more realistic and accurate idea of a limitless, omniscient Deity than does ascribing it to one specific gender. Though great thinkers and philosophers have traditionally used masculine forms when referring to the human race, such as by the term “man,” rephrasing this language–using “human” rather than “man,” or “humankind” rather than “mankind”–offers broader access to spiritual ideas, as well as more accurately describing the terms themselves.
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The American Scholar magazine writer Jessica Love on the history of gender-inclusive language, in “The Grammarian was a He.”
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A reader writes,
I used to have an on-the-fence attitude about gender neutral language, wondering what the fuss was all about, and questioning whether it was worth having to work out how to incorporate “them” and “their” or “him/her” and “his/hers.” It all seemed so tedious.
Then, I stumbled upon As a Women Thinketh, (originally titled As a Man Thinketh, now available from Newt List as As We Think), James Allen’s classic re-edited in feminine dominant language. I was spellbound by the edition and couldn’t put it down, because as I read it, I realized that it was not addressing me! I was excluded from the text. I was not part of the intended audience. And that was when I toppled over onto the gender-neutral side of the fence with a passion.
I remember hearing a clergyman say that people who insisted on gender-neutral language were spiritually immature. I wanted to look him up and send him a copy of As A Women Thinketh with an invitation to consider what it might be like to read his Bible in female dominant language. I shared my plan with a colleague who introduced me to The Inclusive New Testament, by Priests for Equality. I abandoned my plan to find the clergyman, and instead began drinking in the beautiful language of gender neutral scripture.
Again, I was spellbound as I read these familiar and beloved passages in a whole new light. King became Sovereign, and beloved son became beloved child. And I realized that there is indeed a way to write so that the reader, regardless of gender, can feel a part of the intended audience.
Whereas at one time I thought “them” used as a gender-inclusive pronoun was simply bad taste, now I see it as a small price to pay for the enormous benefit of writing in a compassionate and inclusive style.
Rev. Edward Viljoen
Santa Rosa Center for Spiritual Living
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