A few years ago, former UUA President Sinkford set off a minor tiff among my humanist buddies by saying that we needed to go back to a "language of reverence." At the time, I think I said that the words themselves didn't bother me but I had concerns in that:
1. Using the same words different ways makes communication difficult.
From an old post of mine on the subject:
"“Sin” as defined by the shorter OED: Transgression of divine law, a violation of a religious or moral principle. (It being the shorter OED, the actual definition is longer and more complicated, but that’s the jist.)
“Sin” as defined by my office’s receptionist, a Mormon: “Doing wrong. Well, there are different kinds of wrong I guess. I guess sins are wrong that’s against the bible.”
I’d say that if you ask 100 people to define sin, 99 of the resulting definitions would be somewhere in the neighborhood of those two.
CC is one of those people who has wrestled mightily with the subject of sin. If you ask CC to define sin, you’re going to get “It’s something you do, anything you do, that distances you from what makes you a good and useful person. If you reverently and respectfully pull the plug on your terminally ill father to relieve his pain, that’s legally murder, but I don’t think it has to be sin. If you cheat on your taxes and feel so bad about it that it distances you from your life and the good that you do, or makes you feel like doing the right thing doesn’t matter, that’s sin.”"
I don't think there's anything wrong with having a different concept of "sin" and I think they are in the same spirit, but if the Mormon and I wanted to have a conversation about sin, we would have to very carefully stake out what we meant by a term that is loaded on both sides. Perhaps using non-reverent language would make these conversations easier.
2. A lot of the "language of reverence" uses metaphor that makes some traditional assumptions that might not be true.
"God the father" would be a tough concept for a former victim of child abuse.
If your great-grandparents were slaves, then the term "Master" would likely not be spiritually useful, or at least would be loaded for you in a way that it wouldn't be for other people.
And yes, as discussed on the blogosphere at length once, "Lord" raises sexism and class implications that lots of people find alienating.
This is not to say that these terms are problematic for everyone. If you had a great Dad who loved and cared for you, you never really had to apply the issue of slavery to yourself personally and you're ok with what looks to some like grafting a secular aristocratic term onto a man whom God chose to have born in a barn or on to God, then those words work and more power to you. But I think they no longer have the near-universal appeal they once did and I don't think it is coming back.
Humanists pretty much don't win any battles in UUism any more and this is yet another one that we lost and the language of reverence is very much alive in a great many UU churches whether humanists like it or not. (And this theistic humanist admittedly likes it fine most of the time.)
Anyway, in her recent hotly debated post about covenants, PB raises yet another question about spiritual language. When does redefining a spiritual concept and using it for oneself become appropriation? It had never occurred to me that my view of sin (which is massively oversimplified Tillich in the first place) could be read as an appropriation of the traditional concept of sin, not from Tillich, but from Christianity in general. (Who got it from the Jews)
Where does the concept of "appropriation" pay in to the "language of reverence" debate? Does it matter if we are "re-appropriating" a concept that was appropriated by the religion we're taking it from?* Is there an easy guide to "appropriation" that makes it clear whether we are appropriating or not?**
I asked PB in her comments and now I'm asking you.
*Gotta say, it makes me nuts when people accuse each other of "appropriating" the labyrinth from Christianity.
**The best I can do is that it is appropriation when one uses a ritual, term or practice in a way completely divorced from the actual spirit of the thing being appropriated. Gwen Stefani wearing a bindi because it looks cool, for example. But I tend to think it is OK when much of the original spirit is kept intact, (e.g. a day of fasting and meditation and prayer is done in all many religions, and I don't think it is inappropriate for a UU to do the same. Or a child dedication that looks a lot like a baptism.) then it isn't appropriation. But a lot of people do a lot of goofy things in what they perceive as the spirit that the Native Americans intended in the Native American ritual said people are stealing, so I'm aware that my definition is far from perfect.