O ye gods! WPost blazes trail in AP heresy (updated)

A reading, according to the Stylebook of the Associated Press.

Let us attend.

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, etc. …

Lowercase gods and goddesses in reference to the deities of polytheistic religions.

Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god.

That is a pretty clear set of guidelines, methinks.

Thus, I am trying to imagine the conversation at The Washington Post copydesk that led to the following religious reference in a short news report about the amazingly quick political comeback by former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (which Bobby addressed just yesterday). Here is the context:

The former governor beat Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert Busch, for the state’s 1st congressional district. …

In remarks at a victory rally Tuesday night, Sanford tipped his cap to Colbert Busch and her team for a “well-run race.” But the campaign, he said, “was based on two very different ideas on what ought to come next in Washington.”

Sanford also sounded a spiritual note in his address, thanking “god’s role in all of this,” and calling himself an “imperfect man” who was “saved by god’s grace.”

Say what? Saved by the grace of “god”? Which polytheistic or false god might that be?

But here is the crucial question, worthy of contemplation by the Post desk that works on corrections: Does this represent some kind of opposition to the AP gospel? That’s the question that amazed, or at least amused, conservative scribe Marvin Olasky of World magazine:

Did I miss something? Has the Post, a little big for its britches, decided to decapitate (or at least decapitalize) God? Or is the reporter suggesting that Sanford’s god is not the real God? Or is it just a mistake?

Surely this wasn’t a commentary on the state of Sanford’s church life. However, note that, if this was a typo, it was a typo that a reporter made TWICE and it was passed on by the Post copydesk TWICE. Thus, does the whole “false god” thesis remain in play?

Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, the editors were playing this one by the good AP book:

In his victory speech, Mr. Sanford promised to be a “messenger to Washington, D.C.” Then, after introducing one of his sons and his fiancée, Mariá Belén Chapur, who had just flown in from Argentina, he spoke of the redemption he had found on the campaign trail.

“I am an imperfect man saved by God’s grace,” he said.

So, will the style gods at the Post print a correction? They should. Let me confess that I cannot wait to read the wording on this one.

UPDATE: Well, here is that wording. Soon after this post went live, a correction was added stating: “An earlier version of the post incorrectly did not capitalize the word “God” in Sanford’s remarks.” The word “correction” was not used, although that was implied through the use of the word “incorrectly.”

Does anyone know of the Post team has stopped labeling corrections as “corrections”?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://twitter.com/ReformedCath ReformedCatholic

    Don’t hold your breath ….

  • StRalph

    Two possibilities occur to me. One: Some Pentecostals insist on lowercasing “Satan” because they think the uppercase S gives the devil too much power. So perhaps the copy editor at the Washington Post is an atheist ex-Pentecostal. Two: there’s also the possibility that the copy editor is a Christian who finds it difficult to reconcile Sanford’s (a) creepy devotion to Ayn Rand and (b) philandering with Jesus’ teaching on (c) humility, self-denial and compassion for the less fortunate and (d) adultery and divorce. Therefore your humble copy editor concludes: “Whatever god Sanford is mixed up with, it isn’t the one I know about.” Hence, a lowercase g.

  • http://twitter.com/TheParableMan Jeremy Pierce

    I see this extremely frequently with my introductory philosophy students. It shouldn’t even be an issue of divinity. We capitalize the names of fictional characters all the time without thereby committing ourselves to the thesis that those characters exist. Are they assuming the word ‘God’ isn’t functioning as a name? It certainly seems to function that way.

    • Kullervo

      Exactly. When you use the word “god” as the proper name of a deity (or of anything else, real or fictional), you capitalize it. Just like when I call my father “Dad” or my mother “Mom.” It’s not a special rule for Jehovah; it’s the usual rule, applied in the usual way.

      http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-capitalization-of-god/

  • Meggan Conway

    Besides all that… “Stephen Colbert Busch”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.steves.1 Chris Steves

    Looks like it is fixed already “An earlier version of the post incorrectly did not capitalize the word “God” in Sanford’s remarks.”…….

  • tmatt

    Chris is right! This changed between the time I wrote this post and his comment. I checked this one more time before I put the post up online. Amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    I’m seeing that use (small “g” for “God”) ever more frequently by all kinds of people, mainly because they’re either secular or non-Christians and don’t want to ‘privilege’ the Christian idea of God over the idea of other gods or no god at all.


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