On Usage

I have found it difficult to decide how to capitalize “god” in this blog.  Always using a lowercase “g” can seem disrespectful at times and, at other times, it seems to stick out in a way that calls too much attention to the letter, when what I want is attention on the idea.  Always using a capital “G” feels disingenuous in some contexts and sometimes a little confusing.

My plan is this: When referring to the specific deity of any religion, in reference to that religion, I plan on using a capital.  If I capitalize Buddha without compunction certainly I can extend the same courtesy to Christians, no?   But when referring to my own ideas or, as it may sometimes be, my non-ideas I will leave it in the more ambiguous lowercase.  Sometimes I may be referring to both ideas at once, or at least in the same sentence and one form may take precedence over another.  I will also use the term “God” to generally refer to the Christian conception of God, if I want to talk about another religion’s deity I will give a specific label, “the God of the book of Isaiah”, or “Orthodox Judaism’s God”.  Please do not take this in a disrespectful way, I am trying to preserve both respect and honesty, but I don’t want to lose ease of reading as I go.

One thing you may note, I will not use personal pronouns for any deity that lacks a human avatar.  Jesus or Krishna may be a he, but God will stay God (or perhaps god, it depends).  I think it is generally wrong-headed to suppose any deity is bounded by modern notions of binary gender and think it especially wrong-headed to assume that God’s gender must be male.  There should be obvious reasons for that.

Let me know if you have any useful wisdom for how to make a blog about religion as inoffensive as possible.  How do you write about the god of your own faith versus the god of other people’s faith?

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2 Responses to On Usage

  1. h2466trainmaster says:

    Your plan seems reasonable and consistent with the guidance in The Chicago Manual of Style. More problematic is the use of gender-specific pronouns for deities. Where a given religion construes a deity as male or female, the use of gender-specific pronouns seems appropriate.

    There is no suggestion in the Bible that God is anything other than male. (Jesus, of course, referred to God as “Father.”) Modern theology denies that God is of a particular sex—why would sex be needed?—which causes linguistic problems. God (and, more commonly, the Holy Spirit) is sometimes referred to as “she,” though this usage has a certain feminist edginess to it. The obvious solution is to use neuter pronouns, but this sounds strange (“God and its angles”?)

    In The Episcopal Church, some people try to avoid pronouns referring to God completely, but this, too, sounds strange. (“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit./And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and for ever.) The problem is simply that people don’t talk that way.

    The English language is not now equipped to deal with an un-sexed God. If writers adopt some reasonable locution and it gets used enough, it may become standard. This can be a painful process, however. Objections to the use of male pronouns where the actual sex of the referent is uncertain have indeed caused writers and editors to abandon long-established linguistic tradition. No single, satisfactory alternative has emerged, however. Using a plural pronoun such as “they” where the referent is clearly singular seems illiterate, and “s/he” or “he or she” seems clumsy. Perhaps new pronouns are called for. A solution for this latter problem might even solve the former one.

  2. I disagree that “they” as a gender non-specific singular sounds illiterate or that using “God” instead of a pronoun sounds clunky. I use these formulations all the time. It is important to bring gender equality to the sphere of religion and if that means a period of time where we use seemingly clunky language than so be it. How was the term “postal carrier” instead of “mail-main” derided? Or chairperson (ask Clint Eastwood about that)? Changing how we speak can seem strange for us, but it really is for everyone’s good that all people are included in our religious language!

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