Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Respect, Formality, and Titles of Christ

The contemporary American habit of addressing just about everybody by their given (not family) name, usually with no title, started somewhere in the '60s. As I recall, anyway.

You'd think, since I was a teen when Woodstock happened, that I'd be comfortable calling my father-in-law "Larry," and the parish priest "Jim."

I'm not, and I don't. For one thing, my father-in-law likes the diminutive "Larry" about as much as my father liked "Barry:" not at all.

Some of my bosses insisted that I address them by their personal name: which I did. As far as I'm concerned, when someone signs my paycheck: that person can be called anything he or she likes, as long as it doesn't put me in conflict with higher-priority concerns.

Names, Assertions, and Personal Responsibility

I've run into assertions that the habit of referring to fellow-workers by names like "Fred" and "Liz," instead of "Mr. Jones" and "Ms. Smith" (or Miss Smith, or whatever) is symptomatic of cultural decay and decline in morals and personal responsibility.

Those assertions could be correct. The argument is that referring to a person by his or her family name had two immediate consequences:
  1. Identifying that person with an entire family
  2. Making the person identifiable away from work
Point #1 made the employee's performance a matter of family honor. Which wasn't always the sort of silly prudishness of some melodramas.

Point #2 meant that if "Fred" was "Mr. Jones," he couldn't just walk out the back door, head to another neighborhood - and disappear. Looking up "Fred" in Los Angeles might prove challenging. Finding "Fred Jones, formerly employed at Waldo's Widgets" - not so much.

Personal Responsibility, Assertions, and Not Sounding Crazy

I'm not convinced that there really is a connection between personal responsibility and using family names. On the other hand, arguments supporting the assertion aren't as obviously wackadoo as some I've encountered.1

Culture, Change, and Comfort Levels

Wrenching myself back on-topic, more or less: I'm not comfortable with the current 'first name' form of address in American culture.

I even think there might be a connection between the devaluing of personal responsibility2 and calling just about everybody by their personal names. But I'm nowhere near certain enough to present it as a proven fact.

What I am sure about is that it's a change - and that I'm not comfortable with it. Well, I don't have to be - and that's my problem. I think it'd be silly to assume that society should conform to my likes and dislikes.

Respect: It's Important

One reason I'm not all that concerned with addressing folks by their given names is that it doesn't seem to have affected the degree of respect folks have for each other.

As near as I can tell, we've got about as many jerks and clods per capita now as we did back in the "good old days." Also about the same ratio of folks with real class. We just express it differently.

I think that 'horizontal' respect is important - the degree to which we acknowledge the worth of those around us.

'Vertical' respect - I know that's important:
"The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord's name. Like the first commandment, it belongs to the virtue of religion and more particularly it governs our use of speech in sacred matters."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2142)

"Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes. The sense of the sacred is part of the virtue of religion:
Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not? . . . I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have—yes, have to an intense degree—if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present.75"
(Catechism, 2144)
Showing proper respect for God includes not doing some things: like using one of the names or titles of God as an epithet. Or invoking God in an oath - and then breaking the oath. Which is a really bad idea.3

I'm not sure that showing respect for God necessarily involves wandering around with eyes rolled up, hands folded, and a vague smile. (November 29, 2010) I am convinced that how we live our everyday lives can be a mark of respect for God - a sort of "Amen." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1061-1064)

I'm inclined to doubt, putting it mildly, that talking about - and to - God as if he's one of your drinking buddies really shows proper respect. Unless your drinking buddies have a list of titles like what follows.

Titles of My Lord

I ran into this list while researching yesterday's post. ("Evolution, Space Aliens, and Two Millennia of Dealing With People" (July 5, 2011))

Christ's Titles(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Index: Christ)

Titles, Formality, and Being Catholic

So, why don't I write posts full of 'Thee, Thy, and Thou:' and simply dripping with platitudes you've read a thousand times before?

I'm Catholic. Some of the billion-plus of us alive today thrive on that stuff. Good for them. I don't. Which is, as far as I can tell, okay. We're not supposed to all be alike. (August 26, 2010)

Which is just as well, since I don't do 'conventional' all that well. And that's yet another topic.

Related posts:
1 Assumptions - unconsidered, myopic, and just plain daft - have given me material for quite a few posts in other blogs. Including this selection:That last post discusses an apparently-serious academic assertion - that back in the stone age, someone with an hourglass figure wouldn't be as good at hunting as a more 'butch' woman: and would therefore starve to death if game got scarce.

Which assumes that a woman who looked like Jennifer Love Hewitt would have to do her own hunting.

Some of these professorial types give the impression of being people who have heard of human beings - but have never actually seen one. And that's another topic.

For advice on how to make crazy ideas sound not-crazy:2 It looks like the "R-word" has come back in style. About time, too.

3Showing respect for my Lord's name - I see it as simple common sense. 'Don't show disrespect for the boss, or his friends.' Scale the importance of the person up to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
"The faithful should bear witness to the Lord's name by confessing the faith without giving way to fear.76 Preaching and catechizing should be permeated with adoration and respect for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"The second commandment forbids the abuse of God's name, i.e., every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ, but also of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.

"Promises made to others in God's name engage the divine honor, fidelity, truthfulness, and authority. They must be respected in justice. To be unfaithful to them is to misuse God's name and in some way to make God out to be a liar.77

"Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God—inwardly or outwardly—words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one's speech; in misusing God's name. St. James condemns those "who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called."78 The prohibition of blasphemy extends to LANGUAGE against Christ's Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God's name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion.

"Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin.79

"Oaths which misuse God's name, though without the intention of blasphemy, show lack of respect for the Lord. The second commandment also forbids magical use of the divine name.
"[God's] name is great when spoken with respect for the greatness of his majesty. God's name is holy when said with veneration and fear of offending him.80"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2145-2149)

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Using first names at work and on nametags also makes it harder for that creepy guy asking awkward questions while ordering a cheeseburger to become a stalker.

Well, I grew up with the 'first name basis for nearly everyone' and I'm a girl, so my perspective is different.

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Good point, about folks with public contact.

Using given names to identify sales clerks, waitresses, waiters, and other folks with similar jobs goes back longer than my memory. Partly, I'm pretty sure, for the reason you gave.

What changed was the common use of given names in what the culture calls "professional" jobs. Like Fred the manager, Jane the engineer, or Chuck the accountant.

And - as you pointed out - you grew up in a different time. And place.

I hope I made it clear that, although I'll probably never quite get used to the "first name" habit of address: I don't object to it, and certainly don't think my preferences reflect some universal principle, or even an aspect of human nature.

Then there's the traditional Southern States custom of calling nearly everybody by first name - plus title. Except, I gather, in very formal situations. Using that system, I'd be "Mr. Brian."

And that's another topic. ;)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.