Sunday, January 21, 2007

A desk commandment

Here's the reminder again, since* writers always seem to forget it in the clutch: Don't pass judgments about the supernatural. It isn't our province, and jackleg theology on the part of the newspaper is a really good way to offend people. Here's how:

Romney's challenge in the run-up to 2008: Assuage the fears of voters who think he belongs to a non-Christian church with an odd theology -- as in: Jesus appeared in America -- and lingering ties to polygamy.

Point of order. Theology (like doctrine) often involves appearances and disappearances, occultations, revelations, transubstantiations and other events that to the outside eye appear equally "odd." Why it's odd for Jesus to have visited Mexico, but not (e.g.) for his mother to have done so, goes unexplained here. And that's a good thing. It's a very short step from declaring somebody's beliefs "odd" to -- oh, burning a few of his or her close friends at the stake.

Other controversial Mormon teachings past and present: That God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three distinct persons, not a trinity ...

Isn't that nice and medieval? A newspaper that can provide normative judgments on the nature of the trinity? Theologically, I'd prefer one that can consistently tell Ireland from Northern Ireland, but perhaps that's just me.

Bottom line: Thou shalt not. Report on religion and religious people and their views and their lived experience all you want, but don't set yourself up as an arbiter of what's normal and what's odd in the nature of belief. You're asking for trouble.

* Don't listen to Kilpatrick. This is a time-honored sense of "since."


Blogger Amy F. said...

But ... but ... Ranly made us change since to because, too! I'm so confused!

9:31 PM, January 21, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Widely held belief, unsupported by the evidence. Both the temporal and causal senses of "since" predate Shakespeare, and both were good enough for the old boy himself.

Kilpo makes one point worth noting, which is that you shouldn't mix the two senses close together. But Shakes himself managed to get 'em both into "The Comedy of Errors":

"You know since Pentecost the sum is due."

"Since mine own doors refuse to entertain me, I'll knock elsewhere."

Don't use the causal "since" if there's a chance of confusion. But that rule is "don't be confusing," which is good, not "never use causal 'since'," which is unsupported.

There is a warning here. Whenever editors are spending time enforcing false rules, the chances of their letting a real error go through are sharply higher.

10:43 PM, January 21, 2007  

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