Richard Eskow of Salon has asked that we stop using “god” instead of “God”. Actually, he asked it in January–I’ve only come across his piece today so I hope I’m forgiven for the late response.
In a world wracked by war, climate change and economic inequality, this may seem a trivial point. In fact, it almost certainly is. And in a “new atheism” debate characterized by mutual bitterness and rigidity, I don’t want to pour any more kerosene on seemingly eternal fires. But might I ask for one last, tiny little favor, perhaps in the spirit of the New Year?
Please, please, stop writing “god” in lowercase form.
Simply put: absolutely not.
Eskow makes his appeal with respect to grammar and the importance of proper nouns, and declares our “violation” of this law to be a bashing of the “sacred”. I appreciate this point in the smallest possible way.
However, many anti-theists (myself included, as the title of my book no doubt illustrates) have decided to weigh our respect for language against our out-right disrespect for the concept of the monotheistic, Judeo-Christian god. For some of us, it seems, our disrespect won.
The god of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob was a character not only of mythology (as Eskow tries to parallel with our capitalization of Tinkerbell), but a venomous idea that permeates our religiously hegemonic culture. In this way, decapitalizing “God” is an act of rebellion, a negation of the status not only of proper noun, but of the concept of a name and all its identities. I am, unabashedly, being idealistic on this point, as all revolutions of ideas must begin that way. Slashing the “G” is an aggressive symbol.
Eskow seems to think we are in need of a grammar lesson. But really, our differences aren’t linguistic. They’re philosophical.
He does give one sentence to suggest he understands our focus when he writes:
The “god” construct, however it’s intended, looks like an ungrammatical affectation. It makes the writer seem petty and silly, like those Republicans on Fox News who talk about the “Democrat” Party. It also seems intended to show disrespect to the beliefs of others (who shouldn’t care, but some of whom undoubtedly do). [emphasis, mine]
The comparison to Fox News is the last bastion of the cheap argument, rather like the straw-grasping one does to connect one’s adversaries to the Third Reich. (There would be no honor in making a grammar Nazi joke, here.) I would venture a guess that Republicans use of the “Democrat Party” isn’t contrived but a legitimate exposure of their ignorance. Either way, Republicans tritely trying to deconstruct the Democratic Party is hardly in the same arena as making the attempt to demystify the overwhelming hegemonic dominance that the monotheistic “God” exerts. Writing “god” is a kind of public denial of respect that such an idea so richly deserves.
Eskow wishes to be reductionist and comes off as, frankly, pretentious, which I usually don’t mind. I’ve got a touch of that, myself. But he would do himself well to remember that the shift of language has always been the first step in counter-culture: the rebuilding of nomenclature and the rules that guide it have fostered remarkable representative explosions in literature, culture, and philosophy. One would think a person with such apparently devout love of language would have more sympathy for that.
Truly, what makes one seem truly “petty and silly” is an unwavering priggishness when discussing the fluidity of language as a representation of ideas. I think the literary and philosophical testimonies of every writer who bothered to break the rules should be answer enough for him–the list of which, with good reason, is too long to bother typing.
Image: Wikipedia Commons: “God the Father” by Cima da Conegliano, circa 1515