Debating the new Associated Press Stylebook, round two

At this point, I still do not have a copy of the new Associated Press Stylebook, the 2014 edition with the chapter dedicated to issues in mainstream religion-news coverage. I think I will hold out for the spiral edition, which makes it so much easier to work with when writing, because you can open it up next to your keyboard and it stays open. Where do get one of those these days, since Amazon only sells the paperback? That said, I am really enjoying some of the online debates about the contents. You can see some of the battle lines in the comments after our initial post by Bobby Ross, Jr. Click here to catch up on that.

However, you can really sense some of the tensions in this short online piece at The Atlantic, written by Emma Green. This is not a news piece, of course, but it is an article directly related to the craft of religion-beat work, so I wanted to point our readers toward it. It also reminded me of something.

Long ago, as in the early 1990s, I heard a nationally known religion writer turned scholar opine that the true purpose of improved religion-beat coverage in the mainstream media was to promote diversity and pluralism in modern America, thus "undercutting Judeo-Christian hegemony."

Wait for it.

As in, wait until you check out the comments thread at the end of The Atlantic piece. But first, here's a key chunk or two for starters:

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.

Interested? Carry on, because that thought leads straight to the new AP book:

... (J)ust imagine how weird things got at the Associated Press when the organization decided to add 200 new religion terms to its 2014 style guide. Unfortunately for me, they've come down on my boss's side on the subject of "God" capitalization. They also note that it's proper to use lowercase "in references to false gods: He made money his god."

The Associated Press has declared that there are false gods. I can't wait to see what happens when they have to cover a story about a strangely gold-tinted calf who shows up in the desert in Egypt.

Other notables: "hell" is not capitalized, but "Hades" is -- presumably, the reason being that the latter is a place, but the former is not.

You can see the trends. She notes that "Voodoo" the religion is upper-case, but "voodoo" the historic form of Republican economic theory is not. And how does one spell Chanukah, Hannukka, Hanukah, "Hanukkah"? Not that there is a direct connection, but I am hoping for a consistent spelling, someday, of al Qaeda, Al Qaeda, al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda.

But the status of the Judeo-Christian God is clearly the hot issue here. Thus, the essay ends like this:

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.

Comments? I mean, does anyone have comments about the journalism angles in all of this?

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