The Other I

November 5, 2011

My word phobias

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 9:52 pm
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I am trying to get over my phobia about using the words “god” and its cousin “prayer.”

A comment following my post yesterday made me realize that I’m communicating no better by avoiding these words than if I occasionally tolerate them.

Yes, I do cringe when I hear God described as a kind of all-powerful, unforgiving and irrational tyrant.  It also bothers me when people’s use of prayer depends on a Sugar Daddy concept of God. Praying that it won’t rain on the picnic tomorrow assumes that God can be cajoled into giving us things if we ask nicely enough.  If God can and does intervene in our lives in this way, the problems of a loving God who permits so much innocent suffering become insurmountable.

But there are mature concepts of God.  They are concepts that accept that God is far beyond our understanding, that we cannot reduce God to human dimensions, that profound mystery is inherent and pervasive.  We have metaphors of Creator Gods, and Loving Gods, and Angry Gods.  None of these can possibly describe God.  Actually, most people who say they are atheists often sense a potential for mystery that our anthropomorphized Gods could not possibly include.  On the other hand, mystics of almost every religion have understood this as well.

There are also mature concepts of prayer.  They don’t always mean that I will batter God for favours.  “Prayer” may mean I am honouring the mystery.  Or prayer may mean I am acknowledging our human family as my family.  It may mean I am doing everything I can think of — and it may be very little — to care, or to be of help to someone I love.

And so I am going to stop feeling like a lying hypocrite should I tell someone they are in my “thoughts and prayers.”

And I am going to stop gagging every time I use the word God.  I doubt that it will ever become my favourite word, but it is sheer hubris on my part to assume that nobody but myself and a small coterie of comrades can use that term with intelligence and philosophical integrity.

Now back to worrying about the euro – which at this point seems to me to be one of life’s great mysteries, the shape of which changes at least daily.




  1. This one is so good, Terry – as are so many of your posts. I read them and tell myself to comment, but never follow through. However, this evening I decided to post a comment. I like your statements about the problems with god and prayer . . . these have been my angst for too long now, too. I have made my peace with both to some extent. I usually say I am holding you in my heart when most would say I am praying for you. I have stretched myself to do this even when I don’t otherwise feel close/intimate with someone. But it doesn’t matter anymore to me what the degree of friendship/loving relationship [or even unfriendliness] might be. When anyone is willing to receive my good sentiments for their well-being, that’s fine. For me now, that’s what it’s about. Too many years of practicing loving kindness meditation for self/others/all sentient beings, I guess. If someone specifically asks for my prayers, I will offer them prayers. It used to bother me and I would try other routines to dodge the feelings of hypocrisy when I did this. Not any more, because like you, I think it is the intention to wish the other well in whatever situation that suggests that prayer would be helpful, meaningful. As for god . . . I have over the last several years identified as atheist. But it’s not quite the truth either. Yet, I am not agnostic. I like the Buddhist idea of “non-theist” – that works fairly well for me, but no one knows what I’m talking about. I had a conversation yesterday with someone who wishes she could believe in a god. But she doesn’t really; yet she’s also not quite satisfied with that status. She says she is agnostic. When she participated in “over-eaters anonymous” awhile back she tried very hard to believe in “higher power” and she wanted to believe in it so profoundly that for awhile she did. When she moved on from this 12-step program, she returned to agnosticism . . . finding it very hard to go with the biblical god or any other “personal” being who cares about her individually. The tragedy of god being described by the monotheistic religions as favoring a specific cause, group, action [killing the infidel/enemy, for example – doesn’t that just “kill” you?] is horrific. Whenever a candidate for political office brings up his/her devotion to a god – worse yet, when the person proclaims that god wants them to become president – all credibility is lost. It doesn’t stop many from using this approach – and, unfortunately, some get elected. This hypocrisy in recent years in US politics has certainly brought our nation to ruin [along w/the greed and the obscenity of the 1%, of course]. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and timeliness in choosing the topics for your blog posts – I truly enjoy receiving all of them. Peace out, Delia


    Comment by 1delia — November 6, 2011 @ 3:04 am | Reply

    • Delia – Thank you so much for taking the time to give me your thoughts on this question which is so central to so many of us. I know what you mean about the Buddhist “non-theist” label when you say nobody knows what you are talking about. I think in a way all these labels are inadequate. If some people call you or me an “atheist,” I think what they often really mean is that I don’t accept what they mean by “God.” But labels are inadequate period. I used to label myself an agnostic, but now I would say simply that I don’t – I can’t – fully understand. I can intuit something beyond the limits of my intelligence, something that seems to me to be awesome, something incredible, but I no longer expect ever to get a neat set of answers as if the whole question were the solution to a complex mathematical problem. I personally have no sense whatsoever that there is a spiritual world beyond or above or more perfect than this one. That I suppose is what qualifies as – in the minds of some – as atheists. But there is a mystery immanent in our universe which is simply breath-taking. Oh far more than that, isn’t it? Spectacular. Marvellous, Awful. Words fail.

      Peace out! oh that’s wonderful. It is a wish I will pass on to those who live in our crazy, chaotic, wonderful world. Thank you again. Terry


      Comment by theotheri — November 6, 2011 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  2. Terry,

    Terrific post. As usual you say tersely and “to the point” what others (like me) take up kilometers of psychic space and arsenals of verbal overkill to try to communicate. Thank you for this. Your approach allows for personal and intellectual integrity along with respect for our mysterious matrix about which we know virtually nothing. Kudos … and thanks!



    Comment by tonyequale — November 6, 2011 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

    • Tony, thank you so much for your comment. I greatly appreciate it.

      Perhaps I have some gift as a translator of ideas, some ability to highlight the essentials to rescue some people from a morass of confusing detail. But you know – I know – that what you call your arsenals of verbal overkill contain the ideas that are so often the underlying foundation of thoughts that risk being little more than greeting-card wishes and admonitions without that foundation. Not everybody wants or can wade through all the history and philosophy and theology to understand that foundation. But for some of us it is essential. I know it is for me.

      One of the great joys of discovering that I am incomplete (rather than becoming that perfect human being I strove so hard to be in my seriously “Catholic” days) is that it opens up the great joy of partnerships, of working with others. Marriage, of course, is that lesson par excellance, isn’t it? But it’s so in any significant relationship I have ever had. I just haven’t always known it.

      Again, thank you.


      Comment by theotheri — November 6, 2011 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  3. Hello again!

    As I read your post I suddenly thought of a way to characterise the only kind of concept of God which makes sense to me. This is the kind of God such that there is no difference between a world (universe, reality) with a God in it and a world (universe, reality) without a God in it.

    I’m not talking about the difference between a world where people believe in God and a world where people don’t believe in God. There’s all the difference ‘in the world’ between those worlds.

    I mean it more in the way people talk of ‘orienting one’s soul towards God’. This does not necessarily depend on there actually being a God. Someone could say (somewhat pompously but not incoherently) ‘I have decided to pursue integrity’. This does not mean integrity ‘exists’ as anything other than an abstract noun. (I’m not implying God either is or is not an abstract noun…)

    A world where some or all people orient their souls towards God, or pray to God, is different from a world where nobody does these things. But I cannot see how a world which includes the God they orient their souls towards or pray to can be different from a world which doesn’t include this God.

    Thanks, Chris.


    Comment by Chris Lawrence — November 6, 2011 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

    • Chris, mega-thank you for your comment. It is great to hear from you. It arrived at the end of the day in which I have been thinking about the very question you raise: if there is some way in which the word “God” makes sense to me – not in the sense that I might respect it in others – but in a way I myself can conceive any reality whatsoever that by any stretch of the imagination I might call “God.”

      As you know, I cannot accept the common concept of God who resides in another Platonically-conceived spiritual world from which he occasionally meddles in this world. What I think we have is this universe. Or possibly other universes, but not a spiritual superstructure.

      So if there is a god, this god is immanent. If that’s the case, then this universe will itself reveal anything which we humans are capable of understanding about god. And yes, won’t it look the same to someone who doesn’t add God to the mix as to those who do?

      Perhaps, believers would say, they have a sense of awe and wonder, even of terror and mystery that non-believers don’t have. But that doesn’t match my experience. It is the universe – sometimes just minuscule aspects of it


      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 6, 2011 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

  4. […] a comment following the post, My Word Phobias, Chris suggested the way believing in God might make in our view of the […]


    Pingback by By their fruits you know them? « The Other I — November 11, 2011 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

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