Too Much God in Church

“Did you know that he was such a theist when you were on the ministerial search committee?” my co-religionist asked today during the after-service church coffee hour.

She was polite, but the question itself was a clear accusation.

The irony of being asked this question in a church was the first thought to grab me. I am a Unitarian Universalist, so I had to let it pass.

Instead I reported that the Search Committee members most sensitive to theist language were some of this minister’s strongest fans. I said that since these folks were not disturbed by Greg’s choice of language I had not considered his theist leanings a potential problem. I am deaf to theist language myself.

My questioner politely told me how many times Greg had said the word “God” in today’s service. I think it was six. She also reported a similar frequency in recent weeks’ services.

She’s upset.

MuffinI am so glad that I was born a Unitarian Universalist. I wasn’t bludgeoned with negative God-talk as a child, and moving forward a spiritual discussion by using the word “God” doesn’t send me down reactive channels of revulsion. In fact, I am more comfortable with saying “God” and being done with it rather than trying all-inclusive phrases which serially invoke mother earth, nature, the great spirit, and on to the cosmic muffin.

I can only intellectually understand being set off by the word “God”.  I know some cannot hear the term and hear anything else in the sermon.  Even when they know the speaker isn’t trying to get to them to buy into an old white man with a white beard sitting on a throne, these people lose focus when they hear “God”. They prefer bowdlerizing traditional songs and poems with tongue-twisting pseudo-inclusive language. They are so uncomfortable that any word but “God” is preferable.

For me, I am comfortable that the minister labeled himself a lower-case “christian” in his application essay which was shared with the Congregation before they voted to call him as our minister, he has talked about many different religious traditions, and I like some of the questions his sermons have gotten me to think about. As far as I concerned, he can say “God” or whatever term works to communicate his idea.

Okay, I am partial to “cosmic muffin”, but I’ll accept “God” if it works for him.

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2 Responses to Too Much God in Church

  1. tmaher says:

    I just finished Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He spends about half a chapter politely-though-firmly arguing against using the word “God” in the theism-neutral sense. “God” muddies the waters and is imprecise.

    Einstein, who wasn’t particularly theistic, is known for quotes such as “God does not play dice”. In the context of his personal philosophy, Einstein clearly meant “God” in the “cosmic muffin” sense, but it’s been misinterpreted countless times, both perfectly innocently and otherwise. Further, “God” is used in a very politically charged way, e.g., adding “under God” to the pledge.

    If someone wants to use the all-inclusive “God” rather then speak or write in elaborate rhetorical gyrations, that’s fine. I can appreciate that aesthetically. But there is then some onus on the speaker then to make it absolutely clear that is their intent.

    • ozdachs says:

      I see value in reclaiming “God” from its current political abuse. The word isn’t going away, and if a term with that much cultural and historical power is ceded to the narrow minded, then society is worse off.

      In thinking about Harvey’s kid in Altoona, PA, maybe I need to encourage more “God”s.

      As for the speaker’s responsibility to make their intention clear, okay. But, the listener must be able to hear what is being said. This may take time, patience, comforting on one side. It also takes a willingness to change on the part of the pew-dweller.

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