Should I capitalize Heaven? And if I don’t, do I go to hell?

I’m a traditionalist. I still have a landline. I kiss my bride at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day (when I’m awake for it). Our national pastime isn’t this newfangled foosball nonsense, it’s baseball — and day baseball at that. I lean traditional when it comes to grammar, too. I write text messages using proper spelling and punctuation. When someone tells me they’re doing good, I think, “Superman does good. You’re doing well.” (But I don’t say it out loud because I don’t want to be that guy.)

But I’ve read a lot of Grammar Girl, and I’ve come to see that much of what I’ve always thought of as grammar rules are actually styles. My traditionalist mindset says that rules are absolute, but style? Style is very personal. I must obey the speed limit, but don’t you dare tell me what I should wear. My clothes are an expression of me, man. This has led me to be much more accepting of new grammar styles than I once was. I’m cool with leaving the periods out of an abbreviation. I’ve accepted that, in typed text, it’s OK to put a single space between sentences instead of two. Singular “they”? It hasn’t always been my thing, but I’m open to giving it a try.

It’s from this perspective of English as a living language, and not something that stopped evolving with the death of Noah Webster, that I want to talk about heaven and hell. Or is it Heaven and Hell? Turns out that while organized religion might be considered one of the most traditionalist things around today, the grammar style used by many sects of Christianity is actually pretty modern.

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Credit: cocoparisienne via Pixabay. Licensed under CC0 1.0.

His pronouns are simply divine
God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all capitalized because they’re proper names. I think pretty much everyone agrees on that. And despite the fact that the entirety of my education was in secular public schools, I was always taught the traditional style that pronouns referring to God are to be capitalized. My children’s Catholic homeschool English textbooks still teach this style. But I’ve noticed that this is no longer universally observed, even in some fairly pious places… like the Bible itself!

Here’s Matthew 2:2 from the New American Bible, the translation of the Bible used in the Catholic Mass readings in the United States: “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Under traditional style, “king,” “his,” and “him” all should have been capitalized in that sentence, but they’re not. And this isn’t just a Catholic thing. A Bible translation comparison tool shows most Bible translations do not capitalize divine pronouns.

While the “capitalize all divine pronouns” style was no doubt implemented as a way of demonstrating respect for God, I assume readability concerns are what prompted the move away from it. Unorthodox capitalization is jarring. Authors and Bible editors probably decided (wisely) that they shouldn’t do anything to distract their readers from a religious text, especially scripture.

Are we trying to reach Heaven or heaven?
What about Heaven and Hell? They are the proper names of places, and therefore should be capitalized. Right? (Even a non-believer should agree with this, as the names of fictional places like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are capitalized.) I understood the move away from capitalized divine pronouns, but I was a little surprised to find that even amongst religious authors and editors, the common modern style is not to capitalize heaven and hell either.

Matthew 5:20 (NAB) reads, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1024 reads, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven.'” And on the subject of the bad place, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1033 reads, “This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.'”

Why not capitalize heaven and hell? I note those Catechism definitions don’t call them places, instead labeling them a “perfect life” and a “state.” So are they not to be considered places, and therefore proper name capitalization rules do not apply to them? That’s a theological question outside the scope of this discussion. But it is worth noting that the New American Bible does capitalize one synonym for hell: Gehenna, as in Mark 9:43: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.”

The NAB footnotes indicate Gehenna comes from “Hebrew gê-hinnōm, ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ or gê ben-hinnōm, ‘Valley of the son of Hinnom,’ southwest of Jerusalem, the center of an idolatrous cult during the monarchy in which children were offered in sacrifice.” It’s the proper name of a place and therefore capitalized. As for Bibles other than the NAB, a BibleStudyTools.com comparison shows translations that use “Gehenna” or a different transliteration of the Hebrew word do capitalize it, though most versions of Mark 9:43 simply use “hell,” uncapitalized.

Grammarly-HeavenIt seems the majority of religious sources say heaven and hell should not be capitalized. What about secular sources? Well, when I used Grammarly to look over this article, it flagged at least one use of uncapitalized heaven as a possible error. And Alanis Morissette said, “Isn’t it ironic?”

Do you reject Satan? And all his empty promises? And do you refuse to capitalize the name of the place where he lives?
The style an author uses says a lot about them, or at least about the tone they intend with that particular work. And that brings me to an observation I’ve made over and over — the observation that prompted me to write this article. I see it frequently. Here’s an example from the way the Act of Contrition is posted in my parish’s confessional:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell.

Did you notice the capitalized “Heaven” and uncapitalized “hell”? Aww yeah, this is the style I call “sticking it to the devil by withholding a capital.” The person who uses this style — and I’ll admit, at times in the past, that person has been me — is saying, “Heaven is worthy of capitalization, but hell is not.” Take that, Satan!

For my personal style on this matter, I’ve decided to take my lead from my church. Heaven and hell are not capitalized unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence. And God knows I love him even if I don’t capitalize pronouns that refer to him. But nor am I here to judge. If a fellow believer wants to capitalize divine pronouns or write of “Heaven” and “hell,” so be it. As Grammar Girl says in her TED talkwe are the ones who vote on new words and new styles, and we do it by using some and ignoring others.

But if you don’t use the Oxford comma, you are going to hell.

I’ve written for Batman and X-Men (sort of)

Yesterday’s Demons was not my first published work. That honor goes to Batman #455, cover dated October 1990. Did I write the main story in this issue? No. Did I write the backup story? No… it didn’t even have one. What I wrote and what was published in this issue was… a letter!

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Image: DC Comics

batmanletterDear KC and Denny,

I have just finished BATMAN #450 and I can only describe it in one word. WOW! The art was superb, as we have all come to expect from Jim Aparo, but the storyline was most excellent and intriguing. I could never imagine a Joker who couldn’t laugh at things, or refused to tell jokes. It will be very fascinating to see a three-way duel between the Joker, Batman, and Mr. Base. My only complaint is that Bruce shipped Tim off to Japan. Oh, well. I guess I would do the same after what the Clown Prince of Crime did to the old Boy Wonder.

Keep up the tremendous work — this is the best comic on sale today.

Mike Ripplinger

That right there is thirteen-year-old me trying to sound studious, professional, and about double my age at the time. If you want to know what I was really like at that age, check out the contribution I made to Uncanny X-Men #282 about one year later. Uncanny X-Men #282 features the first appearance of Bishop and the first appearance of my name in a Marvel comic. Here I am not making any effort at all to appear calm and rational. This is just me being the fourteen-year-old fanboy I was.

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Image: Marvel Comics

xmenletterDear X-Crew:

Concerning UNCANNY X-MEN #277, I can’t do a single thing until I write you on this issue. Incredible! First-rate! Phenomenal! Superlative! Gambit!

I know you’re sayng “Huh?” to this last remark, so let me explain. Gambit is my favorite X-Man and this issue featured him the most since #273, where the Wolvie fight was great. To see him say to the fake Wolverine, “Bang, you dead” nearly brought tears to my eyes. That’s how much I like Gambit. Keep him around for a long time, but keep him mysterious.

More reasons UNCANNY #277 was great. The script (“Bang, you dead”), the art (namely page 6, frame 7; page 19, frame 3, and, of course, page 24, frame 1), the return of Colossus in metal form (even if he is controlled by Shadow King. But could Piotr rejoin the X-Men? Please!), Gambit, Professor X’s return to Earth (do I see the leader the mutant teams need so badly?), Gambit, and Gambit.

You don’t know this, but I like Gambit.

So, make Colossus and Rogue X-Men again, and keep Gambit in the team. Or I’ll meet you in a dark alley and say, “Bang, you dead.”

Mike Ripplinger

Hoo boy, I should have won the Pulitzer for that one, shouldn’t I?

What I remember most about these letters is that I just knew both of them would be accepted for publication. I remember arriving at the comic book store’s parking lot the day Batman #455 was available and thinking to myself, “The letters on this issue’s editorial page will be about #450, and mine will be there.” And after I bought it, I remember returning to the car and just casually mentioning to my dad, “Yeah, so they published my letter in Batman.” And I just knew they were going to publish my Ode to Gambit in Uncanny X-Men, too. It was an early example of the intuition I would learn to listen to more often later in life.

Another memory of having these letters published was that they got me a pen pal! A man from Nigeria wrote me a letter after seeing my name and address published in Batman #455. I exchanged a couple of letters with him until the letters started to request that I ask “Mommy and Daddy” to send him money and American clothes. To make this easy for me, he even included his clothing sizes. It was like an early 90s, pre-Internet version of a Nigerian prince email scam.

I’m not sure whether or not they’re even still publishing letters to the editor in comic books these days. Maybe such discussion now takes place entirely on message boards and on Twitter. But having these letters printed in two of my favorite comic books sure was a thrill to me back when I was a teenager. And you know what? It still is.

Excelsior!

The Verdant Revival

In my last status update, I promised that I’d reveal the title of my trilogy as a way of celebrating the completion of the current draft of the first book, Yesterday’s Demons.

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As of late last night, the current draft of Yesterday’s Demons is 100% complete. That means, as promised, it’s time to reveal the trilogy’s title.

The Verdant Revival

I wanted the title to describe the span of time the trilogy covers, like a name historians might use to refer to that era. The Verdant Revival fits that perfectly.

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Photo credit: Studio Dekorasyon

The trilogy takes place on the dying planet Verde. Two hundred years earlier, the Blackout destroyed all technology. In its wake, magic disappeared, and much of the world became Terrascorcha: a toxic wasteland where only monsters can survive. The survivors were forced to migrate to what came to be known as the occupied territories: a hot, dusty region with sparse cacti and scrub brush. It’s a harsh, broken place that is yearning for change.

“Verde” is a proper noun in my fictional world and “Verdant” is its demonym. But in the real world, verde is Spanish and Italian for green. It gives us the adjective “verdant” meaning green in color or green with growing plants. Green is a color associated with a good status, with go, and with life.

Merriam-Webster defines “Revival” as a period of growth, or a period in which something once-popular becomes popular again. It’s a word common in spirituality. Matt Maher’s “Burning in My Soul” is a song of praise and worship to the Holy Spirit. “We’re calling for revival!” Maher sings. The fruits of such a revival would likely be the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fortitude.

Put all that together, and you have a term that describes the restoration of a harsh, broken place to the gleaming world it once was. The same term also describes the transformation of young adults into the heroes their world needs them to be. Either way, it’s a term that carries all sorts of hints about my story’s plot and tone.

The Verdant Revival.

What’s funny is this was one of the first titles I came up with, but I rejected it for various reasons. I worked my way through several others and even had settled on a different one for a while, but I was never satisfied and I kept tinkering. Only once I decided The Verdant Revival was the official title did I stop having the desire to fidget with it. Oh, ye INFJ, when will you learn to trust your intuition?

November Status Update

One month ago, the current draft of Yesterday’s Demons was 65% complete. What say you now, Project Tracker?

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90%! I’m pleased with the progress I made last month. At this pace, the draft will be finished this month.

I also estimate progress on the outline for book two of the trilogy at 3%. I haven’t committed much of the outline to bits, but a lot of it exists in engrams inside my brain. And I’ve been creating and listening to the book’s soundtrack playlist. That is a big step in my writing process. The right songs help me visualize the book’s key scenes, and the rest of the chapters fall into place around those. I’m listening to that playlist as I type these words.

And by the way, this trilogy has a title, and I’ll reveal it when I finish the current draft of Yesterday’s Demons as a way to celebrate.

My audience is currently small but is made up entirely of loyal friends and true. I thank all of you for your support. I couldn’t do this without you.

Deus vobiscum.

Mad-Eye Moody’s Advice for Writers, Part 2

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Illustration by Mary GrandPré

This two-part series is about Mad-Eye Moody’s advice to Harry Potter on how to successfully pass the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament. Part one covered play to your strengths.

Bring What You Need
For Harry, this meant using a summoning charm to bring him his Quidditch broom. For the writer, this means making sure you have all of the tools you need.

Unless you write everything longhand, your most valuable tool is likely your keyboard. Are you able to type well on yours? Do your fingers hurt after sprinting out a couple thousand words? Are the keys so close together that you regularly make fat-finger typos? Software engineer Scott Hanselman likes to say, “There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die.” If your keyboard doesn’t feel like an extension of your fingers, rip it out and get a new one. Do you use a laptop that has a bad keyboard? Get a new laptop, or just get a good new USB keyboard, or get a docking station with which you can use a new keyboard. When you sit down to write, bring what you need.

What software are you using to compose and save your hard work? Is Microsoft Word working out OK for you? Do you wish you could use something more powerful, something more geared for professional writers like Scrivener? What are you waiting for? Bring what you need.

Do you like what you’ve written but wish you could get another opinion? Bring what you need and find yourself a writing critique group. Do you wish you had a paper notebook to carry with you wherever you go to jot down ideas as they come to you? Go to the nearest office supply store and get what you need. Do you really wish you had a more powerful grammar checker? Subscribe to Grammarly and bring what you need.

This is your writing. This is what is likely one of the most important things in your world. Why on Earth would you not equip yourself with tools to help you do it to the best of your ability? Bring what you need. If there is some physical or bit-based or human resource that you need, buy or find or hire that tool. And do it yesterday.

And yes, I get it that sometimes the best tools cost the money you need to pay the rent and put Ramen on the table. I’m not saying you should become a starving artist (though I do like to support starving artists when I can). All I’m saying is if writing is a must and not a should to you, the tools that will best let you do it are necessities, not luxuries.

Treating yourself well is like casting a summoning charm: accio success!

Mad-Eye Moody’s Advice for Writers, Part 1

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Illustration by Mary GrandPré

One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series is the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in which Mad-Eye Moody gave Harry advice. To steal an egg from a dragon for the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, Moody suggested that Harry play to his strengths and bring what he needed. For Harry, this meant using a summoning charm to retrieve his Firebolt so that he could utilize his Quidditch skills in the execution of the task. The result was the moment where Harry shouted, “Accio Firebolt!” and his Quidditch broom soared from the castle and came to his side, and it was awesome.

Moody’s advice is exceptional not just for a boy wizard, but also for writers.

Play to your strengths
Especially if your writing isn’t currently paying your rent, you’re probably writing because you just need to. “A writer always writes,” said Rachel Balducci. “And not because of the need to produce as much as the need to just exhale. Verbally/mentally/emotionally speaking.”

If that’s the case, you’d better not be wasting your time writing anything other than exactly what you want to write.

For example, a standard piece of advice for writers is: practice your craft on short stories, make a few sales, get a few published credits, and then attempt a novel. And that is good advice. It worked pretty well for Stephen King, among many others. But what if you don’t want to write short stories? What if you just want to be a novelist? In that case, Mad-Eye Moody growls, “Think now. What are you best at? Play to your strengths.

It also happens that a writer comes up with a great story and tells it very well, but it gets rejected by agent after agent and publisher after publisher because it doesn’t fit neatly into preconceived genres. If that happens to you, should you rewrite the story to neatly fit expectations? No, not unless you want Moody’s magic eye to swivel in your direction. Play to your strengths. After all, children’s books weren’t supposed to be about babies from murdered families who grew up among vampires and werewolves until Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Medal for The Graveyard Book.

This advice applies to a writer in so many more ways. How does it apply to you? Think about what you’re best at and what you love the most. Are you in some way applying that to your writing? Why not? Play to your strengths. They’re uniquely yours, and the world is waiting to see the fruits of them.

(Continued in Part 2: Bring What You Need.)

October Status and Announcement

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My last status update was a big one. In it I announced that I’d decided to independently publish Yesterday’s DemonsNow, two months later, I estimate the third draft of the novel is 65% complete. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve been making.

But back when I decided to independently publish, another question I’d been pondering instantly became a no-brainer. So here’s today’s announcement:

Yesterday’s Demons will be book one of a trilogy.

I know, this probably isn’t a huge surprise. Isn’t it the law in 47 states that all fantasy novels must be part of at least a trilogy if not a longer series? But I’d resisted allowing myself to think too much about the larger story I wanted to tell until I’d secured a publisher. Once I did, the floodgates opened. So in addition to all of the work I’ve been doing on the latest draft of Yesterday’s Demons, I’ve also been giving a lot of preliminary thought to the next two books. I wouldn’t call this thought “Book 2 Pre-Writing” just yet. But it’s close.

Finally, eagle-eyed readers will note that I’ve removed Simon Bradley and the X-Ray Specs from the Project Tracker over in the sidebar. I only did this because it had been sitting there at 100% complete for some time now. I do still plan to return to that book and get a second draft of it completed, but right now, I’m focused on my trilogy.

Lots of other great stuff keeps happening behind the scenes, and when I have more to report, I’ll report it here. Thanks so much for your support and for reading.

Deus vobiscum.