Axegrrl argues on another topic (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/10180/P45/#124482) that shunning words like “God” will eliminate or minimize confusion. I am opening this topic to argue that exactly the opposite is true: when we eliminate a word that is culturally powerful from our vocabulary, we increase confusion, especially negative confusion about our motives and character.
That the word “God” has many meanings, including non-theistic meanings, should be beyond cavil. For example, the book, “The God of Small Things,” is not about any theistic conception of God. (http://www.enotes.com/god-small-salem/god-small-things; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_of_Small_Things) Similarly, the bitch-goddess success (http://books.google.com/books?id=ACB81ZeNN5sC&pg=PA66&dq=Bitch-Goddess+success&hl=en&ei=cNOkTZWmELKF0QH9qtHkCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Bitch-Goddess success&f=false). “His God is money” (http://books.google.com/books?id=EswjAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA153&dq;=“his+god+is+money”&hl=en&ei=6NOkTcWpHuXo0gHS152HCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=“his god is money”&f=false) means that the person values money above all else, not that he thinks currency created the universe.
We scientific naturalists congratulate ourselves for our erudition but in many respects, we are woefully ignorant of the human condition. “God” refers to a supreme being in this culture but it also refers to whatever people value most, their highest ideal, the repository of all their longing, the source of life or values, etc. If we don’t get that, then we don’t get the driving forces behind people’s conceptions of God. And since we don’t buy the formal conception of God as the supreme, conscious creator of all things, we have no way to reach into these ideas except by getting at the other things that God is about. Denying ourselves that opportunity is jaw-droppingly, maddeningly foolish and self-defeating.
Look carefully at the debilitating contradiction. On the one hand, we decline to believe that a supreme being exists but the on other hand, we insist on conceptualizing God only as a supreme being. I can’t use language strong enough to express how patently ridiculous and self-defeating that is. “People think that ‘God’ means an imaginary creator of all things, therefore I refuse to use that word.” The very reason to use the word is to drive home the point that not everyone conceives of God in that way, and that other conceptions of the highest ideal or highest object of desire are possible.
Of course, the penultimate sentence in the preceding paragraph creates cognitive dissonance in its very uttering. Because so many of us can only conceptualize God as the theists do, the very utterance of the word immediately brings to mind the theistic conception of God. So we have the tail wagging the dog. No wonder we can’t think straight about this issue: we can’t see past our mental associations with the word.
Equally or more important, we seem inclined to ignore the many non-theistic mental associations that non-secularists have with the word and idea of God. When we ignore the very thing that makes it possible for us to communicate with them, then we cannot communicate with them.
And that’s not the worst of it. When we act like that – refusing to use the word “God” – we send not only the formal message of our words, literally interpreted; we also send the messages conveyed by the emotional tone of our communication. To many people, we seem like angry people who reject everything. Go ahead, tell me that’s not how we are seen. I am saying that the fault lies not entirely with the theists. To be sure, they don’t like our world view but with equal certainty, we are contributing to their mis-perception of us; when we do enough of that, it ceases to be a mis-perception.
So the next time someone tries to argue that using a word like “God” will create confusion and misunderstanding, consider how thoroughly we are being misunderstood by treating it as though it was an infectious disease. Better yet, let’s cut through the emotional overlay that drives our aversion and stop shunning words for reasons that don’t make any sense.