April 8, 2011

Why Do I Say "god(s)?"

Zeus

You have probably noticed that I often refer to "god(s)" or "gods" when it is necessary to refer to them at all. This is deliberate on my part, and I am by no means the only atheist blogger who does this. So why do we do it? Why don't we simply use the accepted Western convention of "God" when writing? I can't speak for others, but I'll explain why I do it.

The primary reason I use the "god(s)" or "gods" when I am writing is that I want to communicate to the reader that I reject Christian privilege. In the United States at least, "God" is widely understood as referring to the Christian god. But there is nothing special about this particular god and no reason to pretend that it is the only one people have worshiped over the ages. It isn't even the only god people worship today! I see little reason to pretend otherwise, and that is why I try to avoid using labels that would do so.

Humans have believed in thousands of gods. Even today, a great many gods continue to be treated as if they were real. But none of these gods has more evidence of its existence than any other. It isn't like one of these gods stands above all others in the sense that it is obviously more real. In all likelihood, these various gods are equally fictitious. None deserves the sort of special treatment "God" confers.

Words matter, and atheists do not get a free pass here. Our words matter too. Much as feminists helped us realize the problems associated with the exclusive use of male pronouns, atheists can help us realize the manner in which using "God" maintains Christian privilege. If we'd like to see Christian privilege fade away, this is one simple way we can help. I am not claiming that this is all we need to do, but I do think it is one of the easier things we might consider.