I’m subscribed to more Christian e-newsletters than I can count. I enjoy keeping up to date about what’s going on in that world, like the recent Sears fiasco (they’re selling hard-core pornography, dontcha know, and the AFA took one for the team by buying a copy to make sure that a) it was really Sears selling it, and b) it was hard-core and not something more acceptable to Christian sensibilities like soft-core or erotica, for example).
Occasionally, one of these distributors will mail out a prayer. Just to be clear, these aren’t “pre-made” prayers from Psalms or anything. They are prayers written by people like Tim Wildmon‘s ghost writer to deal with whatever the most recent crisis may be.
The thing that strikes me about these prayers is that they almost always use “thee” when addressing God.
Now, obviously, this is the language used in the King James Bible. That makes sense, since “thee” was in common use when the KJV was written. Nowadays, it sounds archaic and conspicuous.
Which is, of course, the point. Tim et al. are trying to sound archaic to separate ritual/sacred speech from profane speech. This serves to formalize the prayer, making it more honorific. (Within about 20 seconds of Googling, I was even able to find this website, which is devoted to helping people properly use “thee” in prayers because this, rather than “you,” is the way to honour God with the “utmost humility and reverence.”)
Many people don’t realize this, but the “you” we now use every day is actually the honorific form of “thee,” not the other way around. So the irony is that the KJV uses “thee” for precisely the opposite reason – to emphasize familiarity with a personal god. You can see this more clearly in other languages that have kept the two forms of address, such as in the French Our Father:
Notre Père, qui es aux Cieux,
Que ton nom soit sanctifié,
Que ton règne vienne,
Que ta volonté soit faite
Sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour,
Pardonne-nous nos offenses
Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés,
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
Mais délivre-nous du mal.
The end result is that Tim et al. are being somewhat flippant while intending to be reverential. And yes, it is flippant if you’re not making a deliberate theological point – heck, it’s flippant even if you are! After all, even a dog gets the honorific “you” these days!
Tasty fact: I come from Quaker stock, and as recently as my great-grandparents, my family still used “thee” in their everyday speech. That’s as little as 50 years ago!