One of the many fun things about religion is that you never know when it will turn up. Take, for example, my day as an editor at an online university. I edit courses for the university on a contract basis, so every few months I spend a few weeks reading introductions and activities and syllabi and the whole nine for various courses: biology, psychology, sociology, etc. It’s sometimes really cool work, if I get an interesting course, and other times it’s sort of boring, such as when I’m editing any education course – which is ironic, when you think about it.
Anyhoo, I’m equal to most editing challenges – this comma goes there, that’s not the right word, that sentence needs a different pronoun – but every now and then I come across an editing decision that I need help with, when more than one possible course of action seems grammatically correct or reader-friendly. I won’t bore you with examples, because this kind of thing is only compelling to other nerdy editors like myself. But since there are several of us who do this work, when one of us has an editing poser, we just e-mail it to everyone else and everyone weighs in.
Today, I came across a religious question in a course about the philosophy of disaster management. The author used the phrase “Act of G*d.” Of course, the phrase meant disaster, such as an earthquake or a hurricane. But the asterisk suggested that the person was not spelling out the word “God” on purpose. And the only reason I know for avoiding that is that the writer doesn’t want to do so because he or she believes it is sacrilegious.
So should we leave it that way, or put the O back in God? On the one hand, other courses don’t need to mention God, and so the presence of this method of saying the word God (which, of course, everyone understands even if the letter isn’t present) would be a little jarring. The relatively obvious religious motivation for leaving the o out might be disturbing to some students, but to put the o back in might be deeply offensive to the author if he or she turned out to be the instructor of the course. And some students whose cultural background didn’t include this type of work-around might find the whole business just strange and confusing.
Ultimately, we took the famous editor’s cheat: Write around it. So we replaced “Act of God” with “unforeseeable disaster.” (Although just to tweak everyone, I sent out an e-mail that I had decided to replace every “o” in the course with an asterisk.) But I never expected to have this kind of debate while editing courses, and the debate was quite lively – I was amazed by how many different courses of action we came up with.
Anyone have an opinion about what we should have done? Or d*ne?