Anti-swearing law

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Mon Feb 21 17:38:25 UTC 2000

In a message dated 2/21/2000 8:10:27 AM, dsawczak at GAGELEARNING.COM writes:

<< How does this huge and laughable
myth, that the poor secular majority is being
oppressed by a handful of religious people, rather
than the reverse, survive? >>

I hesitate to answer this at all, because it is so angry in tone and wanders
so very far away from what ADS-L is supposed to be about, i.e., language.
This sort of outburst is uncharacteristic of the discussions that we have
here, and I'm going to hope that what I say will be calming, not incendiary.
And I will try to keep my focus on language-and-society.

It seems to me that the question that <dsawczak> asks severely misinterprets
the sociolinguistics of Anne's answer. I think that we all agree that most of
the people who strongly advocate the posting of "the ten commandments" share
a common core of religious beliefs. I agree that Anne's characterization of
those beliefs as "very narrow" may seem like invidious "stereotyping," but I
don't think the purpose of her comments was to put people down, but rather to
attempt to explain why only certain translations would satisfy the very
people who are advocates of the posting. As far as I can see, her
sociolinguistic observation is surely correct: wouldn't posting even of a
Catholic Bible translation be difficult for people to accept whose very use
of the word "Christian" excludes Catholics, Mormons, and, indeed (for many)
those whose specific religious beliefs disagree with theirs? For me,
<dsawczak>'s "you can still easily recognize all the commandments [in all the
translations]" may well ignore some really significant doctrinal decisions
that a translator must make (e.g., compare "Thou shall not kill" with "Do not
commit murder"--the former seeming to possibly forbid capital punishment, the
latter not). But even if there were no significant semantic differences, the
political issues are significant, e.g., the King James version might seem to
many Jews to be particularly exclusionary.

As for <dsawczak>'s question itself, it does illustrate the role of rhetoric
in language. Anne certainly does not say that "the poor secular majority is
being oppressed by a handful of religious people" (that sarcastic "poor" is
very telling). I am not a religious person myself, and I think of myself as
an old-fashioned liberal in most ways, but I don't for a moment believe
anything so simplistic. I do believe that the influence of "religion" in
government can be oppressive (e.g., in the preservation of sodomy laws), but
this is just a manifestation of a much larger tendency of people--religious
or not--to attempt to project their own beliefs into the public sphere.

I thank <dsawczak> for reminding us that we need to be careful not to seem
exclusionary in our postings. There are many people of faith who are regular
readers and writers, and the faiths are various and sundry. One thing that we
might all agree on (excuse the translation if it is not the one that you
prefer) is that a gentle answer turneth away scorn.

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