What's with the lowercase g, g?

John Halton appears bemused (also mentioned here) by the lowercase beginning to the word “god” on this blog and among atheists generally:

Oh, and what is it with atheists these days saying "god" in lower-case all the time? It wasn't like that back in my day. I'm not a Buddhist, but I can still bring myself to use a capital "B" for the word "Buddha". Ditto "Allah", "Krishna" and "Flying Spaghetti Monster".
The distinction between Jesus (or Buddha, Krishna etc.) and god is useful. Jesus is a person, real or otherwise, while god is an idea, like liberalism or justice. When god is written with a capital g the writer is saying that the idea of god is more grounded in reality that it actually is.

Some will argue that god is not an idea but a name. When a Christian says I believe in god, she is referring to a specific entity. Yet, if you accept that god is a name, in the same way Kevin Rudd is a name, strictly speaking both “God” and “god” correct. You could call our Prime Minister a “father” or you could call him “Kevin”. In the same way you could call the Christian god “God”, his name, or a “god”, what he is.

Seeing as god is more of an idea that an actual entity, the lowercase “g” is more suitable.

20 comments:

CraigS said...

So, australian atheist, why such a bee in your bonnet about God?

Also, what are your *positive* political/ideological beliefs? What philosophers/ethicists do you follow?

Australian Atheist said...

I've got no problem with god. Just like neither of us are bothered by unicorns.

I have a problem with religious faith because it often impedes the quest for human wellbeing.

What philosophers/ethicists do you follow?

See here's a difference. I don't follow any philosophers/ethicists. There are a number I respect and agree with on many issues but I don't follow any of them in the same way you follow Jesus or your god.

For example, in my opinion John Rawls is an excellent philosopher. But if I disagree with one of his theories it’s no drama.

On the other hand you are not able to disagree with Jesus on any point. Even if one of his moral teachings is shown to deficient you must adopt it.

CraigS said...

Well, can you describe your own personal philosophy then, whatever it's source?

arthurvandelay said...

So, australian atheist, why such a bee in your bonnet about God?

Why would he have a bee in his bonnet about something he doesn't believe exists?

To the topic at hand, before Australian Atheist is obliged to explain why he isn't running around raping and murdering at will--given that people just cannot possibly be moral without a belief in a deity . . .

I'm not always careful about whether I capitalise "god," but I try to avoid it. If "God" is simply the name of deity worshipped by Christians, Jews and Muslims, then capitalising that name is no more objectionable than capitalising "Zeus" or "Thor." On the other hand, as you point out, "god" is a common noun, and I have the sense that using the lower case g for gods worshipped by, say, the Ancient Greeks or the Vikings, and the uppercase G for the god worshipped by Christians and Jews, and I am giving the latter god undue reverence. Undue, that is, because I no more believe in the existence of the god worshipped by Christians, Jews and Muslims than I do in any other god.

For the same reason, I never refer to any deity as "He" or "Him."

CraigS said...

To the topic at hand, before Australian Atheist is obliged to explain why he isn't running around raping and murdering at will--given that people just cannot possibly be moral without a belief in a deity

And I said that where..?

Don't straw-man me. Listen to what I have to say and respond to that...

Australian Atheist said...

Art – I didn't take Craig’s question to imply he thought morality must be religiously based.

Craig – generally speaking I could be classed a utilitarian. Human and animal wellbeing (happiness and suffering) should be the basis of all decisions we make.

As such I have an evidence based outlook when it comes to politics. It seems to me that policies which redistribute wealth and ensure equality of opportunity are likely to increase overall wellbeing.

I am a liberal (in the philosophical sense) in that, as long as your actions are not harming others, they are of no concern to me. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and universal human rights.

CraigS said...

So I guess you are a John Stuart Mills sort of a person?

Have you always been an atheist?

Chris Fryer said...

The Christian God is an entity, fictional or not. Therefore it is grammatically incorrect to not use a capital G when referring to that entity. The Christians were very smart when they named their god.

John H said...

Thanks for the response. I think I realised that the idea was to emphasise "god" as a concept rather than as an entity, but it still reads very oddly when you're using it as a proper noun.

I mean, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is more of a concept than an entity, but I don't feel I'm lending any credence to the FSM's existence (or "saying that the idea of fsm is more grounded in reality that it actually is") when I capitalise her/his/its name.

You could call our Prime Minister a “father” or you could call him “Kevin”. In the same way you could call the Christian god “God”, his name, or a “god”, what he is.

Well, absolutely fine. But what you're doing is moving from that to just calling your prime minister "kevin".

Seeing as god is more of an idea that an actual entity, the lowercase “g” is more suitable.

Of course, some would probably say the same about kevin rudd. ;-)

Anyway, thanks for the gracious response. May you be touched by the noodly appendage of richard dawkins in the coming year. (Sorry, I think I may have got a bit confused there...)

Australian Atheist said...

Craig - Obviously Mill is an important figure in liberalism but I think he places too greater emphasis on negative liberty.

Have you always been an atheist?

I was a believing Catholic until about 17/18 (I'm now 25). Can't really remember exactly when it was. There was no big event. As I grew up I began demanding evidence for my beliefs. The amount of suffering in the world didn't help. I intend to post on the problem of evil one day. I think it’s very important.

CraigS said...

Craig - Obviously Mill is an important figure in liberalism but I think he places too greater emphasis on negative liberty.

Who would you recommend over Mill?

I intend to post on the problem of evil one day. I think it’s very important.

Indeed it is - it seems to me to be pretty much the biggest question asked of Christianity.

Does your philosophy also have a "problem of evil" that requires resolving?

Australian Atheist said...

Who would you recommend over Mill?

John Rawls. His "A Theory of Justice" is important but very long. I also like Brian Barry.

Does your philosophy also have a "problem of evil" that requires resolving?

Not really. Of course every political philosophy my grapple with people who harm others but the fact that suffering occurs does not have to be reconciled with anything. It’s just the way things are. All we can do is try our best to reduce the suffering.

TPO said...

I agree, as far as the English language goes, the only time god should be capitalized is at the beginning of a sentence. The word god has a diverse meaning to each of the worlds past and present religions. And they number in the thousands!!!

plonkee @ the religious atheist said...

I tend to use god if I'm referring to a non-specific interpretation of the concept, but God, for the personification of the concept, a bit like time and Father Time. Except that the thinking of the god concept as a person is probably more common.

Rod Blaine said...

> "I have an evidence[-] based outlook when it comes to politics [...] policies which redistribute wealth"

I get it. This is a Sydney Anglican or Eric Metaxas parody, isn't it? That irony is too cutting to be unintended.

Because, yes, well, objective evidence showed that redistributing wealth worked a treat once - as JBS Haldane boasted in debate with CS Lewis in the 1940s - "Mammon was banished from one-third of the Earth's surface". This being why people flee non-redistributivist societies in leaky boats for a chance to live in redistributivist societies.

CraigS said...

As such I have an evidence based outlook when it comes to politics.

Yeah, I am interested in this comment too. What sort of "evidence" are you talking about?

OzAtheist said...

I sometimes use god (lower-case) just to be narky. Immature I know, but it can be fun.

Generally I'll use god when I'm referring to the idea and God when I'm referring to the 'being'.

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metal-fan-666 said...

I explicitly use a lowercase g when referring to god as i have nothing but contempt for the millions of god variants that people assert to be true.

Jonathan Baker said...

Strange as it may seem, I do think AA is onto something in that God is not strictly a proper name.

Nor, in Christianity at any rate, is it a description of 'what' he is, which is how it is used in the paganism from which the term has been borrowed.

AA is quite right to recognise that Christianity uses it very differently. The closest use we have is of a title (even if you do not accept the existence of the bearer) such as Prime Minister (which AA has correctly capitalised).

I suggest that a capital is the most appropriate usage for one more reason: having this unique Christian usage, it should be written in the traditional Christian way.