I’m going to have a little gripe here for a bit.
I was teaching on the new translation of the liturgy the other night, and just having a little grumble about the line: “and on earth peace to people of good will”.
It would have been so much nicer if we could have had (as I believe the original translation during the 1960’s actually had it) “and on earth peace to men of good will.”
But the language police tell us we can’t do that anymore.
Okay. But that leaves a bit of a lacuna in our language, doesn’t it? The Gloria in Excelsis uses the word “homo” for those who are on earth over against the word “Deus” for him (or her?) what’s up in heaven. We need a word for that which we folk here on earth ARE that distinguishes us over against GOD. Several proposed solutions just don’t cut the mustard.
1) “Human” isn’t a noun. It’s an adjective. I am “human” because I am a “human being”. “Human being” = belonging to the species “homo sapiens”, as compared to belonging to the species “Felis catus” or “Rattus rattus” or even “Homo neanderthalensis”. I don’t want to sing about “peace to human beings”…
2) “People” are “them”. You know, the ones who “say” or “think” things. They’re just people. I hear that even dogs are “people” to some people. But that’s just people for you.
3) The NRSV likes to use the word “mortal”. But that just means someone who is going to die. Even dogs, cats and rats are “mortals”.
You see, we have thrown out the perfectly servicable word “men” (as in “for us men” – ie. not for just us Christians nor for all us creatures) or even “man” (as in “became man”) for something that just doesn’t function in the same way.
Think how easily we still use the term “man-made”, to mean “not naturally occuring”, ie. not “God-made”. Think about how we say that Neil Armstrong was “the first man on the moon”. Yes, I know that he was male, but what we mean is that he was the first member of the human race to set foot on the moon (“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”, would have sounded dreadful as “One small step for a person, one giant leap for people”). Think even of the recent successful French film “Des hommes et des dieux”, which was given the English title “Of Gods and Men”. No one batted an eyelid at that.
So it’s still there in our language. It hasn’t entirely gone away. We could revive it if were were determined.
If we can’t revive “men”/”man” to serve the purpose of saying what we are collectively over against the Deity, can we invent a new word to do the job properly? I have been wondering about whether we could borrow something from German, eg. “mann”. Or perhaps a differently pronounced “men”, such as “mun”? I don’t know.
Or we could just be stubborn and go on using the “sexist” language anyway in the hope that one day sense will reign once more…