A reader in Iowa wonders what is going on with capital letters:
I always assumed that capitalizing "he," "him," and "his" when referring to God was a strict rule — a rule of language, not of religion. "Him" wasn't capitalized in a story in today's Des Moines Register (my local newspaper). The story says, "The biggest change since his accident has been in his prayer life, he said. He prays every day. He thanks God for sparing his life. He thanks him for each new day."
Do we only capitalize "Him" when we're writing religious texts, or was this a mistake?
The short answer is that we do not generally, in newspapers, magazines and books, capitalize those pronouns any longer.
Here are two relevant entries from The Chicago Manual of Style:
The “down style. Chicago generally prefers a “down” style—the parsimonious use of capitals. Although proper names are capitalized, many words derived from or associated with proper names (brussels sprouts, board of trustees), as well as the names of significant offices (presidency, papacy) may be lowercased with no loss of clarity or respect.
Pronouns. Pronouns referring to God or Jesus are not capitalized. (Note that they are lowercased in most English translations of the Bible.) *
The same practice with pronouns is spelled out in the stylebooks of the Associated Press, The New York Times and the Catholic News Service.
Before the zealots come swarming through their sally ports, let me point out that this practice has little or nothing to do with multiculturalism, and certainly not any kind of campaign by the wicked secular media to derogate Christianity. It is simply one example of the tendency in written English over the past century to reduce the frequency of capitalization.** For example, few newspapers any longer capitalize president in references to the U.S. chief executive unless the title immediately precedes a name.
So the Register is simply following what has become a convention over the past several decades.
* It might also be noted that they are not always capitalized in the original texts, either, since Hebrew does not have capital letters.
** As always, there is a countervailing tendency, as The Oxford Companion to the English Language points out, with businesses indulging in a riot of internal capitalizations in the names of companies and products.