John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

O ye of little faith

Last week The Baltimore Sun ran an article by Tracy Wilkinson of Tribune Newspapers about relief efforts in Haiti that contained this questionable sentence:

Haiti is, officially, predominantly Catholic, with some Protestant faiths.

For officially, the reporter probably intended nominally, in name only. Officially would suggest the existence of an established state church, like the Church of England. Haiti is about 80 percent professedly Roman Catholic, though estimates are that half the population practices forms of voodoo. (This might help to explain, though not excuse, some of the Rev. Pat Robertson’s peculiar pronouncements.)

More seriously, the reference to Protestant faiths betrays an ignorance of religion. Christianity is a faith, as is Islam, as is Hinduism. The Protestant churches are branches of Christianity not separate faiths. They are denominations, or, somewhat less favorably, sects.

Here endeth the lesson.