Flash back with me, if you will, to my recent GetReligion "guilt file" post on the religious-liberty showdown between an Assemblies of God chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, and the principalities and powers at the modern U.S. Navy.
There was a reference in the Military Times account to a Navy document listing the chaplain's offenses, one of which was that he:
Told a female that she was "shaming herself in the eyes of god" for having premarital sex.
I raised a style question about that claim, asking if the lower-case "g" on the reference to "god" represented a change in news style for Gannett or if the modern Navy has now changed to using lower-case references to the Deity.
After posting that, I had a kind of nagging sensation that I was forgetting something. Perhaps there was another news item related to this Godtalk issue buried even deeper in my massive folder of GetReligion guilt material?
Sure enough, there was, one dating back to the Academy Awards coverage. A film critic friend of mine sent me this note:
Just noticed this Associated Press story transcribed Sean Penn's comments, only with God decapitalized in the phrase "thank god." Does New Atheist case style have traction in mainstream journalism?
Now, the average reader would not have been look for religion in a story about the actor's "Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?" remarks when announcing that the best picture Oscar would go to "Birdman," and, thus, to Mexican-born director Alejandro Iñárritu. As it turns out, the two men are close friends and have a long history of lighting each other up with blunt comical remarks.
The God reference came near the end of the piece, as it ran at The Washington Post:
"I have absolutely no apologies," Penn said with calm resolve.
"In fact, I have a big (expletive) you for every...anybody who is so stupid not to have gotten the irony when you've got a country that is so xenophobic," he said. "If they had their way, you wouldn't have great filmmakers like Alejandro working in this country. Thank god we do."
Note that this was a spoken, not a written, remark. Thus, we can't say that Penn -- a very secular kind of guy -- used a lower-case "g," unless he announced it somehow and that was left out of the story. Perhaps Washington Post editors made the change?
Apparently not, since most of the other versions of this AP story that I found online contained a "Thank god" reference, rather than "Thank God."
So Godbeat professionals now have to ask if the AP style committee on high has changed this very old and very familiar entry in the bible -- lower-case "b" -- of journalism? After all, the book currently says:
gods and goddesses
Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, Allah, etc. Lowercase personal pronouns: he, him, thee, thou.
Lowercase gods and goddesses in references to the deities of polytheistic religions.
Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god.
Now, to make matters more complicated, I did find another copy of this AP story that said:
"In fact, I have a big (expletive) you for every ... anybody who is so stupid not to have gotten the irony when you've got a country that is so xenophobic," he said. "If they had their way, you wouldn't have great filmmakers like Alejandro working in this country. Thank God we do."
Ah! So what news organization went to the trouble of restoring God to upper-case status? Alas, that would be FoxNews.com, of course.
Just what we need, a journalism culture war over AP style for the Almighty.