May 17, 2020

Want to Undermine Christian Privilege? Be Careful How You Talk About Gods

globes

Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, and Neptune are immediately recognizable as being among the planets of our solar system. But there is something else slightly less obvious about them: they are named after gods that were once widely worshipped by humans. They have good company in that respect since humans have worshipped many gods throughout our history. And while we are on the subject of gods, I have to make one more comparison between gods and planets that some atheists have probably noticed. The name of the planet we currently inhabit (i.e., Earth) is about as creative as the name most Christians use for their preferred god (i.e., "God"). When it came time to name our planet, it seems like we could have done better than a synonym for "dirt."

So why do the other planets have cool names when ours is so mundane? I'm not sure. And yet, I suspect that posing the same question of the Christian god has a clearer answer: Christian privilege. I'd guess that the use of "God" as a proper name is a relatively recent thing. At least, it is difficult to imagine that Jews living during the time in which the events described in the bible allegedly took place would have referred to their god as "God." Doing so would have been confusing to everyone because many different gods were worshipped. The same would have been true for early Christians. Referring to it only as "God" would have inevitably led to the question we should still be asking today: "Which god?"

And some point, Christianity become dominant in the West. This was aided by their violence, but that's not really what I want to address here. After it became dominant, it was far easier to pretend that there were no other gods and even that there never had been other gods. Freed from competition (and equipped with power granted by the state to inflict violence upon dissenters), Christians could refer to their god simply as "God." Who would dare question them? The had the power to rewrite history to favor them, and they utilized it to great effect.

If we fast-forward to today and consider that Christian privilege is alive and well in the United States, it might occur to us that one of the ways to undermine this toxic privilege is to meet any references to "God" by asking, "Which god?" It is an unexpected question only because Christian privilege has been allowed to flourish for far too long. Another would be for us to intentionally avoid ever referring to "God" ourselves but always to phrase things in such a way that acknowledges the multitude of gods. As long as the evidence for one remains no better than the evidence for another, why should atheists participate in Christian privilege? We shouldn't!

Language matters, and the words we use influence the manner in which we think about our world. Referring to the Christian god as "God" instead of asking Christians to specify which god they are talking about perpetuates Christian privilege. Of the many thousands of gods humans have worshipped during our relatively brief time on our unfortunately named planet, none have less evidence for their existence than the one modern Christians prefer. As atheists, I see no reason why we should keep pretending otherwise.