By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 21, 2008
Talk about a straw in the wind! As an indicator of cultural change the following item is hard to beat! A friend of mine who is a computer "whiz" sent it to me a few days ago. It came from a blog called Spero News, under the dateline December 9, 2008. (Spero is Latin for "I hope". And is a pun perhaps intended as well, alluding to Our Lord's assurance, offering reason for hope: "Not a sparrow falls to the earth without your Father's will"?-Matthew 10:29). The blog offers comment on the most recent revision of the Oxford English Junior Dictionary, the dictionary designed for Great Britain's children. Here is the report.
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From: Spero News
British Dictionary Excludes Christian Terminology.
Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Words associated with Christianity have been REMOVED from an Oxford University Press dictionary for the United Kingdom's children. Editors justified the changes by citing declining church attendance and multiculturalism.
Lisa Saunders, a mother of four from Northern Ireland, compared various editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary after discovering that the words "moss" and "fern" had been removed, in addition to words associated with the monarchy and the natural world.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the deleted CHRISTIAN words include ABBEY, ALTAR, BISHOP, CHAPEL, CHRISTEN, DISCIPLE, MONASTERY, MONK, NUN, PARISH, PEW, PSALM, PULPIT, SAINT, SIN, DEVIL and VICAR.
New words were inserted based on word frequency, and included the words allergic, curriculum, celebrity, and MP3 player. [Today's British youngsters evidently spend so much time with their MP3's that their crowded days leave little room for reading their country's great literary classics, classics replete with allusions to the Christian faith. For that matter, eleven of those eliminated words occur in the latest novel (The Private Patient) of England's superb contemporary writer P.D. James].
Vineeta Gupta [presumably a Hindu], who is in charge of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press, described the aims of the Junior Dictionary to the Daily Telegraph.
"When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance," Grupta said. "That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don't go to church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturatism, which is why some words such as "Pentecost" or "Whitsun" would have been in 20 years ago but not now.
Gupta said the publishing company produces 17 children's dictionaries with different selections and numbers of words.
Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the Center for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, argued that the word selections reflect the way CHILDHOOD IS MOVING "AWAY FROM OUR SPIRITUAL BACKGROUND and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us." [in faint-hearted censure of which trend Professor Smithers demurs]:
"We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable...."
* * * * *Questionable, indeed! One is tempted to surmise that in the dictionary's next revision the Good Lord Himself may well be informed that-alas!-there's no room for HIM in THIS inn! (Though the way things are going in Britain today, there will probably be an entry for Allah).
For the moment, however, the novel 1984 comes most readily to mind, with its forecast of a culture in which even the slightest, most peripheral, most casual use of any and every word that could possibly be linked to religion is a punishable crime.
Here in America very much the same forces are hard at work, though thus far with less success. All the more reason, then, for you and me to do what we can to launch a modest little counterattack of our own by offering a quietly confident public witness to our faith whenever an occasion presents itself- e.g., saying a quiet grace before meals in a restaurant, voluntarily foregoing the eating of meat on Friday, even when we are with friends, and right now, during the Christmas season, restoring Christ to Christmas by saying "Merry Christmas!"--or better yet, "A Blessed Christmas!"-instead of the anemic "Happy Holidays!"-unless, that is to say, you know for sure that the person you are greeting is not a Christian (and even then a Shintoist, for example, probably wouldn't mind; borrowed from America, Christmas is "a big hit" in non-Christian Japan).
And let's make sure that we ourselves will be celebrating a blessed Christmas! One sure way to do so is to take the time and trouble to receive the Sacrament of Penance with genuine devotion. A propos of which I am happy to report that Archbishop Nienstedi has formally forbidden for this archdiocese the use of the Sacrament's Form III, the granting of mass absolution without the hearing of individual confessions. The use of Form III, sometimes referred to in its abuse as "The Minute Wash", is, as canon law makes very clear, valid only when large numbers of people are facing an immediate danger of death and time restraints do not permit the hearing of individual confessions. 9/11 provides a perfect example of the kind of situation which alone would justify such granting of mass absolution. And even in so dire a situation as that to receive the absolution validly one must intend to confess one's sins individually in the event that one survives.
Finally, in these last few days before Christmas let's "absent ourselves from felicity awhile", cutting back on worldly distractions-e.g., TV-and dedicating the time that is thus saved to thinking about how you and I could respond with a greater generosity than we may have shown in the past to the love which the Christ Child so eagerly offers you and me.
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P.S. On two totally different subjects, comment upon which may however, be judged to be timely, may I note first that the book to which I alluded in my homilies last weekend-the British novelist Julian Barnes' autobiographical meditation entitled Nothing To Be Frightened Of, a description of his fear and despair as an aging atheist brooding relentlessly about his approaching death-was listed by last Sunday's New York Times as one of the ten must important books of the year, not altogether a surprise, perhaps, but it does make you wonder about the standard applied by the Book Review Editors. And then on Tuesday, December 16th, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page paid brief but noteworthy attention to what will probably be forever the preeminent image in future recollections of the presidency of George W. Bush-the Arab TV journalist's hurling shoes at the president. I reprint the editorial here. I think it says as much as needs to be said.
* * * * *The Sole of Liberation
Wall Street Journal
Editorial page-Tuesday, December 16, 2008
On Sunday, as everyone in the world now knows, a young [29 years old] Iraqi TV reporter named Muntander al-Zaidi took the opportunity of a press conference to throw his shoes at George W. Bush and call the President a "dog." Congratulations, Iraq: You really are a free country.
Yesterday, the New York Times queried dozens of Iraqis from across the country for their views of Mr. Zaidi's act. Reactions ranged from enthusiastic support to the feeling that it was unprofessional for a journalist and no way to treat a guest. One Iraqi feared that the President would take some sort of terrible revenge, but he relaxed after Mr. Bush laughed the incident off. Another, who claimed to have spent five years in Saddam's jails, offered that "the journalist has to throw flowers on Bush, not a shoe, because Bush saved the Iraqi people from a bloody regime."
So everyone has an opinion, and everyone seems prepared to share it (along with their name and city of residence) with a newspaper that somebody in the Iraqi government is likely to read. For its part, the Iraqi government is not amused. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Mr. Zaidi's stunt a "shameful, savage act" and demanded an apology from the reporter's employers [a Cairo-based television company]. So far, none has been forthcoming, and Mr. Zaidi potentially faces jail time for harming a visiting dignitary.
Mr. Zaidi works for an anti-American TV outlet, and was known to sign off on his televised reports from "occupied Baghdad." But if Mr. Maliki wants his revenge, he could do no better than to let Mr. Zaidi walk free. As for Mr. Bush's critics, both in the West and in the Arab world, they will see one more opportunity to bemoan the folly of Iraq's liberation. We suspect many Iraqis will reflect on what would have been the fate of any journalist who dared to throw his shoes at Saddam Hussein.