language theory

Politically Correct Language and Theology

I care about language, so I’ll just say it: politically correct language is not weak. Instead, it is part of the proper response to marginalized people.

Theology in the USA in recent years has worked, under the influence of the likes of liberation theologies, to adjust its language. Inclusive is now the name of the game. And actually, I don’t find anything wrong with this. Why?

Well it is not so weak as it has been made out to be. The care to include other people in one’s way of talking has been characterized as a way of pulling punches, not being sharp enough, or simply bowing to pressures from the far left. However, to characterize it as such is profoundly ignorant. Consider an excerpt of King:

King voices a common problem: associating goodness with white and evil with black, and doing so within a racial/racist culture, overtly or implicitly tells those of non-white skin to hate their body. The response to such a problem is first to realize that the subject is constituted by divine work within people, while at the same time, working to change how our language works and influences those around us.

The aim of correcting language into a more universal speech is meant to bring others in. In other words, it is to allow room for those not explicitly like us to exist within our sentences, rather than simply holding our particular selves as the universal standard. In fact, the correction of language was rooted in the objections of those who seemed invisible or voiceless: they were not even part of the conversation. The point of moving towards a more inclusive language is to change one of the fundamental structures that forms us: the categories that form how we talk. This change in language isn’t a superficial thing, nor weak, rather it is a reply to anguished cries. And frankly, if you haven’t heard the cries, you haven’t been listening well, if at all.

Now, does some “pc” speech seem unwieldy and awkward at times? Yes. So get creative. Should it all be taken wholesale? Probably not. And can it seem a frustrating that some people do it just because? Yes. Doing something like this just because is annoying and sheepish, but not because of the thing itself, rather it is because of the moron who doesn’t think it through. Thus, I don’t see an actual problem with changing our language. In fact, I wonder about those who aren’t.

Do not forget that our language should not obstruct or alter the proclamation of Jesus’ work so that it reinforces a broken system. And remember, the salvation Paul talked about was a universal Gospel.


12 thoughts on “Politically Correct Language and Theology

  1. poserorprophet says:

    This is all well and good, but my problem is with those scholars who adjust their language but not their lives or the structures in which they live and move. This permits people to think they are doing something concrete (or ‘radical’) in response to injustice when, in fact, they are not.

  2. I think the real danger of political correctness is not that it isn’t powerful enough, but that it is, in fact, too powerful. Politically correct language invents a new reality, but the problem is that it is an illusory one. I think it, in fact, tends to conceal the real political issues at stake. PC language is a perfect example of the non-dialogical politics of liberalism. In an effort to “make peace” the white bourgeois liberal decides to call black man, “an african american,” and the indigenous man, “native american.” The problem is that it creates the illusion that such a change in language means that we are no longer racist or that we sincerely sorry for our colonialism. I’m not saying we should continue to use the old obviously racist language, but I think PC is not helping to expose the sheer depth of racism. And I do wonder if it actually conceals it.

    • Of course you’re right. The value in this, for me, is that changing the way we talk will change the way we think. But if we were to think we achieved freedom simply because we changed the language, I wonder if we have bigger problems then.

  3. Ben says:

    R.O. Flyer is right, PC is still a kind of colonizing through classificatory schemes invented by political liberalism — it works not to challenge the authoritarian core of liberalism but rather to sustain it (see Zizek and Badiou among others for critiques of PC). We need to see that PC is based on an atomistic ontology and its negative liberty which requires more policing than anything in order to hold a community together through negative bonds (“don’t infringe upon the other” is the sole imperative maintained by a state sanctioned discourse) — that is, it is not a language based on a positive vision of inclusive communion with others but rather a discourse still in collusion with the negative liberty of market expansion and its state policing (still a totalizing universal order?).

    But you are right David in pointing out that there is a longing within the PC program, no matter how slight and perverted, that seems to desire this more positive vision of universal inclusion (at least we hope there is a modicum of this desire still there) — but it has neither the ontology (or metaphysics of language) nor the corresponding practices to really pursue such. There is then no easy participation in this program. How might theology/ecclesia challenge PC to the core and provide a way of naming (under a different banner, if a banner at all) that is expressive of a more universally inclusive bond beyond the paradigm of political liberalism and the market? (it’s easier said than done and may often be charged with “fascism” and “totalitarianism” by the police)

    • I have understood the better aspects of PC language to be additive rather than negative: God as he and she rather than he, for instance. Certainly I would not want to enable the larger market and its economies, however, if PC language rightly done is additive, then it can be understood as prophetic speech a warped world. Of course it must broaden itself, but if the roots are based in what relationships ought to be, then perhaps there is yet room for such speech.

  4. Ben says:

    Identifying “rightly done” PC language with prophetic speech? Is this David Horstkoetter, or an impostor?

    When I say PC language is based on negative liberty or according to normative bonds of negative association I don’t mean that its linguistic predication is also wholly negative. Rather, I mean that whatever predicates are “added” to say, in your case, God, this is driven not so much by a fidelity to the fullness of God but rather by a project that implicitly voids “God” so that within the void all terms become fungible signs (supposedly leveled without any privileged ontological expressiveness) so that they are now able to be applied or added according to their politicized designation. And this politicization is all too often about maintaining an order of negative liberty for the market in that it seeks to open space so that any identity can be marketed. (everyone has a right not to be interfered with in their pursuit of commodity exchange so that the market can expand without end). So it is not an issue of whether PC language is rightly done as either negative or “additive”, because the program is already guided by a certain metaphysics (or that is, its roots based in a certain vision of what relationships really are and ought to be, as you say it). And this metaphysics cannot be equated with the condition of possibility for prophetic speech, despite their ostensible similarities.

    Of course, this is not to reject the desire for universal inclusion that you are getting at but to point out the radically different bases. Calling God she is founded in different ways by prophetic openness and PC schemes which are not easily reconciled.

    • Impostor!! Well, not really.

      I agree that there are different bases from where language comes. And thus, in androcentric world, to notice the feminine side of the divine is, in the least, unwelcomed. This discontinuity is prophetic (being rooted in the subject constituted by its created status) rather than founded in the liberalism of the state or the ontological negativity of the market for revaluing. I hear you on the totalizing metaphysics of the state and the market, and of course I want to avoid falling into that as well, but I’m convinced that a correctly relational way of language is possible. But of course to be correct, it must be derived or redefined from the metaphysics of the divine, i.e. oriented from a different way than the market. Then, and only then, can talk in the correct way — to be truly politically correct congruent with liberative praxis — be divine work. And thus we’re back again to the prophetic nature of genuine political correctness: the basiliea reordering relationships.

      Perhaps I should have been clearer on my flexibile use of the phrase ‘politically correct’, as opposed to strictly limiting it to the contemporary colloquial usage.

      We’ll have to talk this out soon, and to correctly do so would be over some drinks–INTERRUPTION! Oh come on, you knew that was coming.

      • Ben says:

        That’s clearer and makes more sense according to what you are interested in. Our last two comments are basically saying the same thing, then, except for the interruptive interruption part, which totally threw me for a loop (in your use of “interruption” do you mean something along the lines of Carl Spitzweg’s painting “The Unexpected Interruption”?).

        Okay, seriously though, we’ll have to discuss over a drink whether the banner “Politically Correct” has lost all value in our contemporary context and whether a new name needs to be given. But I see that we’re coming from roughly the same place.

        • Ben says:

          I say “roughly” because I think there are a few kinks that you still need to clarify . . . but that’s one for The Comet.

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