Our church once invited the famed cosmologist and noted atheist Steven Weinberg to come speak. My assumption, which turned out to be false, was that he would teach our people about his own non-theistic approach to science and perhaps to human affairs. The Christian Church once refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, and I hoped this would be a chance for our church members to see that scientific honesty and religious wonder are not mutually exclusive. Instead, the time was spent with him ridiculing us for fundamentalists tenets none of us holds.
At the end of his diatribe, Joyce Sloan, a small, soft-spoken older woman stood up and asked, Dr. Weinberg, is there anything about the universe that is still mysterious to you?”
“Most of it!” he responded.
“Then what is so wrong with us using the word “g-o-d” as a symbol for that mystery?”
The nobel laurete did not have a response. He said he did not consider that to be a worthy definition of the word, “God.” Dr. Weinberg seemed completely ignorant of the fact that there are many religions in the world that aren’t theistic. His knowledge seemed limited to American Fundamentalism and he would not consider the possibility that we were using words differently. The idea that we might be speaking poetically did not seem to even occur to him.
I left his talk wishing the great scientist would test his beliefs about people as rigorously as he tests his theories about quasars. It is a false choice between rich objectivity and rich subjectivity. We can be both scientists and poets. In fact, we must bring the two halves of our consciousness together if we wish to find the wisdom and power to save our planet.
I don’t like the word God, I try not to use it in any explanation of my views on religion or spirituality, and I’m not an atheist. Why? When you use the word God, whomever you are speaking to naturally assumes your definition can be understood through their own definition. The average religious person deeply desires uniformity of thought on the subject, wants others to share their concept of God, and will take any familiar terminology as a cue that you believe as they do. This leads to misunderstandings. I just assume disassociate myself from such a harshly judgmental group and thought process.
Ironically, and despite this desire for uniformity, they view Muslims, who do believe in God much the same way Christians do, are described by many (especially evangelical) Christians as believing in a different God from theirs. Try to tell these Christians that Allah is simply the Islamic word for ‘God’, much the way bon jour simply means hello in French (ok, good day if you want to nit pick), and watch as they squirm and revile the notion that those from a rival religion or culture might actually share their views on the almighty.
So I prefer terms like “higher power” or “something greater than us”, terms that they already associate with differences in views on the subject.
Alan, I use the word infrequently for the same reason. The Sufi’s had 10.000 names for God. You would think we could come up with a few ourselves.
A “mystery” can be the end, or the beginning of curiosity, mediated by awe. The terms “God”, “Jesus” “Christianity” are either a cap-stone to the discourse, or a jumping off place. What we could discuss are which “platforms” make for better jumps! Rather than clinging to the boards in anxiety about the free-fall, and the free-for-all that these words can prompt.