Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Hymns

Jerry Stratton, February 23, 2022

April 27, 2022: Though the Darkness Hide Thee
Rainbow in darkness

There are some glories that God does allow us to see, such as the symbol of his saving grace.

Just before Easter I posted a piano file for the hymn Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!. The song came to my attention at a recent mass with more modern lyrics that reminded me of the annoying tendency of modernizers to dehumanize and bowdlerize once-insightful songs. References to man’s sinful nature may offend some, but they are necessary to accept God’s grace.

When hymnal publishers update lyrics that refer to humanity, removing the references to “men” or “man” and replacing them with “us” or “all” or reworking the line to excise the reference to humanity entirely, most of the time the changes end up just looking silly, as when they replace all of mankind with the self-centered “us”. Or when “And if wicked men insult and hate you” becomes “And if wicked tongues insult and hate you”.

Really? It’s the tongue that’s doing the hating, and not the people? It seems that if these modern bowdlerists were sincere in wanting to improve the texts and thought that providing body parts with agency would do so, they’d at least choose the brains or the mind rather than the tongue, but of course that would be too close to acknowledging that wicked people exist.

In many cases, the changes seem explicitly designed to exclude everyone except the congregation. When hymnals replace “Let men their songs employ” in “Joy to the World” with “Let us our songs employ”, we’re no longer speaking of humanity when we sing the songs. It’s supposed to be joy to the world, not joy to us. One of the great messages of Christ is that he was Christ for the world.

But there’s a deeper and more dangerous reason for those kinds of changes. The dehumanization of the lyrics externalizes the sin both from humanity and from the singer. I’m not a sinner. It’s my tongue that does the sinning, it’s my eye that’s sinful. Of course, if the bowdlerizers making those changes actually believed that, they’d be both mute and blind, because they would follow Jesus’s command to tear out the sinful flesh.

But they don’t believe that. They just want to dehumanize sinfulness.

Among the worst of these are the changes made to “Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”. Originally, it very clearly put the sin on man and not on man’s body parts—when it mentioned sin at all.

February 23, 2022: Depersonalizing God in modern hymns
Let us love him

I have an upcoming post about how modern hymnal editors are bowdlerizing older hymns to distance mankind from any acknowledgement of sinfulness. But there is another class of bowdlerization that distances men from God Himself: changes that downplay the very existence of God as a guide and confidant, as a father who speaks in our hearts.

Hymns are replacing personal pronouns in lyrics—that are literally about God the father—with neutral and less personal titles.

We sang Where Charity and Love Prevail for the offertory hymn several weeks ago. Every lyric that personalizes God has been depersonalized. Most of them are innocuous, but one especially is not, and the combination is both stilted and distancing. The earliest verified lyrics I’ve found are from the 1966 Peoples Mass Book; they remain the same up to at least the 1984 edition. The original lyrics of the second verse are:

  • With grateful joy and holy fear
  • His charity we learn;
  • Let us with heart and mind and soul
  • Now love him in return.

Sometime after 1984 they were changed to:

  • With grateful joy and holy fear
  • God’s charity we learn;
  • Let us with heart and mind and soul
  • Now love God in return.

The change from pronouns to God throughout the lyrics makes for very stilted language. “Be ours his holy peace” becomes “Be ours God’s holy peace”, and so on. Every place in the lyrics where we once sung about God as someone we know has become depersonalized to a title.

It’s like they just took a global search and replace across the entire lyrics without regard for meaning. In fact, it almost looks like they globally searched and replaced on His and thus missed what I assume is a lowercased “his” in the fifth verse.1 It’s also possible that, since the line speaks specifically of Christ2, the bowdlerizers haven’t yet decided that Jesus the Son isn’t deserving of “his”. They may be prepping for the change: they did replace “him” with “Christ” in the fifth verse:

  • Let us recall that in our midst
  • Dwells God’s begotten Son;
  • As members of his Body joined
  • We are in him made one.

becomes:

  • Let us recall that in our midst
  • Dwells God’s begotten Son;
  • As members of his body joined,
  • We are in Christ made one.
  1. <- Mercy more than life