Which God Are You Talking About?


Do you remember that hour-long documentary on atheism CNN aired a while ago? It was called Atheism: Inside the World of Non-Believers, and I believe it was broadcast in late March. I was busy when it aired, so I recorded it to the DVR and then forgot all about it. Surprisingly, I found myself in no hurry to watch it. And when I did not watch it after a few days, I forgot it was there. It took me until this week to finally get around to watching it.

I'm not going to summarize, review, or criticize the CNN documentary. It is old news by now, and many others did these things at the time. Besides, I didn't find that it sparked much of a reaction for me except for feelings of sadness I experienced in response to the part about the evangelical fundamentalist Christian parents deciding that their own son was "dead" when he came out to them as an atheist. It was such a shame to see parents throw their son away to preserve their faith. But there was one peripheral issue I haven't addressed in a while that the documentary got me thinking about again. And this is the topic I'd like to revisit in this post. If we want to erode Christian privilege, we might pay more attention to how we talk about gods.

For at least a few years now, I have made a point of referring to "gods" or "god(s)" in my writing. I've done this deliberately to make it clear that I reject Christian privilege. I am not going to grant any particular god default status or make assumptions about which god or gods someone prefers. I recognize that thousands of gods have been worshiped throughout the ages, all with equivalent evidence for their existence. Some of them are still worshiped today. The U.S. is a religiously pluralistic nation. In addition to Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists, we have deists, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Scientologists, and even Mormons.

I am not going to assume that someone I've just met believes in one god instead of several. To do so would be to grant privilege to monotheism. I'm not going to assume I know which god someone is referring to when they speak of "god." If they do not clarify because they are blind to Christian privilege, I'll ask. I'll ask to prevent myself from making unwarranted assumptions and to expose this sort of privilege.

While watching the CNN documentary, I noticed how the interviewer repeatedly referred to "god" as if everyone was necessarily thinking about the same one. She never once referred to "gods," and none of the atheists who appeared with her pointed this out or sought to clarify which god she meant. It would have been great to see one of the atheists being interviewed ask her which god she was referring to.

When we allow others to refer to "god" without explaining which god they mean, we are opening the door to potential misunderstanding. We do not necessarily know which god they are referencing. Worse yet, we are missing an opportunity to challenge Christian privilege. We should adopt an inquisitive stance and ask, "Which god?" And when we see their puzzled expression, we should be ready to point out that plenty of people believe in different gods or in no gods at all. I see our failure to do this as one of the many ways in which Christian privilege is maintained in the U.S. I believe we should work to change it.