On Religion in Style Guides

When The Atlantic was revising its style guide for the web a few months ago, my cubicle unexpectedly turned into a metaphysical brawling zone. Our house policy is to capitalize ‘God’ when it refers to the entity worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. (Other times, it’s not capitalized—for example, when writing about how I’m the ‘god of the office candy jar.’) In my opinion, this suggests a belief on the part of the writer: Capitalizing ‘God’ means he or she believes in the formal existence of a thing called god, so that name is capitalized like any other name. My boss disagrees. Neither, he says, does capitalizing the protagonist’s name from The Big Lebowski entail belief in the existence of the Dude. So we capitalize God... Perhaps the trickiest of all is the entry for Jesus, who is described as ‘the central figure of Christianity.’ The philosophical twist is in the pronouns; unlike prayerbooks or the Bible, which refer to him as Him, the AP instructs newspapers that ‘personal pronouns referring to him are lowercase, as is savior.’ If Jesus is in the news, he can be the ‘Son of God’ or the ‘Redeemer’ (both capitalized). But when it comes to pronouns, the AP says, he’s a ‘he,’ just like any mortal man.

"AP's Style Guide for Religion, Metaphysics, and God's Existence" The Atlantic http://bit.ly/1hnH36o

It is interesting in particular that the editors at the Atlantic had to negotiate the theological issues at stake in the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon regarding how to communicate the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The issue is humorously echoed in Steve Martin's "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

timothywstanley@me.com