Can You Capitalize Too Much?
By Evan Braun
Let’s start with a philosophical question: Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I think most people would say yes. Wholeheartedly. So many of the wonderful things we enjoy can very easily—too easily, often—be taken to excess.
One of those things, for a Christian, might be reverence. Excessive reference? Now, this may sound a bit blasphemous, but please bear with me.
I should clarify that reverence on its own is not a problem. Can you revere God too much in your life? That’s a stretch.
Rather, I’m talking about performative reverence. It’s like a Christian form of virtue signaling.
In writing, this manifests most obviously with the deity pronoun—should you capitalize it? There are different opinions and positions on this, but at the end of the day it’s up to the author.
I would encourage you to click on that link and read all about this important question, but the main takeaway is that there’s no hard and fast rule. Want to capitalize the deity pronoun? Great! Don’t want to capitalize it? Also great! Capitalizing the deity pronoun is often a means of expressing reverence for God, but not capitalizing it doesn’t indicate that an author doesn’t revere God. After all, most translations of the Bible actually don’t capitalize these pronouns. By capitalizing the deity pronoun, are we saying that we’re holier than most Bibles?
This is where we get to the idea of performative reverence. Capitalization in Christian writing can sometimes be a type of performance without underlying substance.
I’ve used the deity pronoun as an example of optional capitalization, but of course, the choice to capitalize the deity pronoun is well within the norm. Where my eyebrow starts to raise is when we go further afield.
There are authors who insist on capitalizing a host of other words as a matter of preference, even though there’s no clear stylistic basis to do so.
As an editor, I tend to push back a little when authors want to capitalize interrogative pronouns. This means that when “who” or “whom” refers to God, they capitalize it. This is starting to venture outside the norm, but it’s borderline. The main reason not to do? It isn’t necessary—but more importantly, the more capitalization you use, the messier the text starts to look.
Other cases of borderline capitalization in Christian writing would include “word,” whether it’s in reference to the Bible or in other contexts. Think: the Word of God, or receiving a word of knowledge. Should it be capitalized? And in a similar vein, how about “scripture”? The context is similar.
How about “kingdom”? The English language provides no justification for capitalizing this in most contexts, but it’s allowable as a matter of preference.
How about “heaven”? Again, typically this would not be set apart through capitalization.
How about “church”? Sometimes authors will want to draw a distinction between the universal Church and the individual church congregation. Either way, the key, I say, is to make sure you’re at least being consistent.
Although a good argument of mine is always that it’s easier to consistently not capitalize. Opting out of capitalizing these words provides fewer opportunities to make mistakes.
In any event, so far these have all been common words which many Christian authors hem and haw over. Nothing crazy.
Now let’s go even further into the weeds.
Some people like to capitalize “biblical,” even though that’s an adjective and wouldn’t ever get the uppercase treatment. Same with “scriptural.”
Should “cross” be capitalized? How about “body,” as in the body of Christ? Or how about “creation”? How about “will,” as in God’s will? How about the various titles of the Holy Spirit—healer, helper, teacher? How about the “vine”? Or the “master”?
From an editorial perspective, I understand the reason: reverence. And there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating reverence. But drawing so much attention to too many special cases can get to be a scourge to the eye. It can start to look messy.
Now let’s head out to the extreme fringes. I’ve worked with authors who insisted on capitalizing a whole other category of words: “glory,” “honour,” “majesty,” “power,” etc., when they’re used to describe the nature of God.
The justification for these is especially flimsy.
Also on the fringes is an intriguing case of Christian decapitalization. A surprising number of authors stridently maintain that “satan,” even though it’s used as a proper noun (in other words, a name) should not be capitalized, even when it starts a sentence, because they don’t want to give even the slightest glory to the devil.
Which I get, kind of. Except that I don’t subscribe to the notion that following the fundamental rules of grammar constitutes an act of glorifying the devil. In the same way that not capitalizing the deity pronoun doesn’t indicate a lack of reverence to God, capitalizing Satan doesn’t indicate reverence for Satan.
So how much should personal preference outweigh grammar and the standard conventions of English usage?
Well, as an editor, you won’t be surprised to learn that I tend to prefer adhering pretty closely to the standard conventions of English usage. When you’re driving a car, you should stick to the rules of the road; when you’re writing a book, you should stick to the rules of the language—more or less.
The more you disregard grammar and insist on following personal preference, the more these preferences start to seem performative. My advice? Keep it simple. Your reader isn’t judging you.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.