The Names of Gods

I recently read Plato’s Apology (that is, Plato’s account of Socrates’ defense against accusations of “impiety” and “corrupting the youth of Athens”), and I was fascinated by the use of swears (e.g. “by Zeus!”) and the way they referred to their gods. If they didn’t name a specific god, it was always “a god” or “the god” or “the gods” or even “the gods of the city”. There was always a sense that they were referring to a specific god or set of gods.

This is in contrast to the way that modern Christians refer to their god. They never use his name. It’s always an indirect reference, like “God” or “the Lord” (often with His pronouns capitalized), where they refer to their god by title and act as if that title is their god’s name.

The language use itself asserts their position that there is exactly one god, and it is their god. This is a social convention that I delight in going against, by always being specific about what god or sort of god I am talking about (e.g. “the Christian god” or “any gods”). I refuse to tacitly let the assumption that there is exactly one god slide by using language which implies this is so.

Besides, one thing I’ve noticed about referring to one’s god as “God” is that it becomes very easy to assume that any conversation about a god concept is about one’s own god. For instance, in any philosophical argument about the existence of some manner of creator god, people often see this as being about their “God”, whether or not any connection is made between the philosophical creator god and their god.

Honestly, it irks me that most Christians don’t refer to their god by a name (unless they’re specifically talking about Jesus). I know it’s taboo for them to say their god’s name, but using the generic god concept word in the place of their god’s name is not the only way to handle this. And yes, I know this isn’t the fault of individual Christians. It’s just the social convention we are all used to and which is seldom questioned. But it sucks. And it wasn’t until I was reading a philosophical work referencing the Christian god (as opposed to the Athenian gods), and started to question why I felt more comfortable mentally replacing “God” with a specific qualifier (e.g. “the Christian god”), that I even started to notice any of this stuff.

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6 thoughts on “The Names of Gods

  1. I love this. I agree. It’s kind of egotistical how some religions say “God” as if their god is the only one in existence. I actually get annoyed by the capital G and the capital H in “His” or “He”. It also annoys me how they assume that “God” is a male? A bit sexist if you ask me, but whatever. Also, kind of random, but are you a feminist? (Definition: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.) Great post!

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    • I absolutely identify as a feminist. I feel very strongly that there should be equality among all genders, and I do my best to be an ally to women. Being a trans man, I have a bit of an odd perspective where I’ve felt the effects of sexism first hand, but I’m not actually a woman. So, I can identify with some of the experiences of women to a greater extent than most men. Sometimes I feel like I’m somewhere in between being an ally and being part of the group (in some ways), which can be kind of weird for me. But yes, I definitely consider myself a feminist.

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      • That’s great! I think that you are in a great situation because you have experienced both the male and female genders so you can get a little firsthand knowledge about both. I am glad to hear that you are a feminist, and that you are not ashamed to wear the label. It’s upsetting to hear men who deny being a feminist. Thank you for your response.

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        • It’s not so much that I’ve experienced the female gender as just that I’ve experienced what it’s like to be treated as female. So, there are some pretty strong similarities between my experiences and women’s experiences, but there are some important differences, too. It’s certainly a unique perspective to shed light on disparities in how people are treated based on gender. I actually read a very interesting book once that looked at gender inequality through the lens of trans men’s experiences: “Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality”

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        • I once knew this person in my class who was female in the beginning of the year, and towards the end he transitioned into a transgender male. I noticed something. In the beginning of the year, he was treated with more “care” when he was female, and he was quiet but nobody really bullied him or anything. Later, when he came out as transgender, he wanted to be called Zayn (some refused) and he wanted to of course, be referred to as he instead of “she.” After that, I heard whispers and gossip which I didn’t really care about at first (I was very uneducated on what being transgender meant) but as time went on I noticed the discrimination. He just dealt with it and didn’t say anything. If I could go back in time I would give them a piece of my mind. I just thought it was interesting how he was treated differently. He wasn’t taken seriously.

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