From Plain speech to Social security
Friends are currently focusing attention on inclusivity, rightly discerning its urgent importance in our troubled world. With this in mind, I think it might also be timely to consider the Quaker commitment to plain speech, which seems to have been forgotten in recent years.
Language, of course, changes constantly, but we are increasingly expressing ourselves in the language of business and of the media, which seems to me to be soulless, more suited to machines than to human beings. I feel that the words come from the mind rather than the spirit.
This is the language of a particular section of our community, many of whom undertake valuable work on our behalf, but the everyday language of people is universal – the language of people on the streets of market towns, chatting over garden fences, or gathered in small groups – people of all ages and backgrounds. More and more frequently I find that expressions have to be explained to me, and am sure that there must be others who feel stupid, embarrassed, and excluded by such vocabulary.
Here are a few examples from recent editions of the Friend: ‘implement issues’; ‘systematic patterns of intersectional exclusion’; ‘endogenous capacities’; ‘securitized responses’; ‘engage with the space’.
Perhaps other Friends would welcome a return to the language of our common humanity.
I must thank Richard Pickvance (1 October) for knowledgeable correction regarding the relationship of the Sinaitic Palimpsest to possible older lost Latin or Aramaic texts. I came across the story of its discovery, and J Rendel Harris’ part in it, while researching the relationship between Rendel Harris and Irene Pickard, his personal secretary, as part of my Eva Koch scholarship at Woodbrooke. Rendel Harris was profoundly affected by the realisation that the gospel had extra verses added, telling of the resurrection and ascension, between the time the Palimpsest was written and the reign of Constantine, when the gospel reached its current, canonical, form.
It serves as a reminder that Christianity evolved out of Judaism in the period following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE, with competing branches and rival gospels. One particular branch emerging victorious following the First Council of Nicaea in 325CE, as a result of Constantine’s insistence that, as the official religion of the Empire, it should have only one agreed and enforcible doctrine – hence the Nicene Creed.
Irene Pickard, whose archive I was studying, was much affected by those discoveries about the Sinaitic Palimpsest and by her contact with Carl Jung, whose works suggest that during that process of the evolution of Christianity, the legendary figure of Jesus was woven out of the sayings and doings of one or more itinerant Jewish teachers and given mythological status as the one and only incarnation of the previously tribal, now to be universal, god of the Jews.
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