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Words and Symbols


GeorgeW
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You want words that are not ambiguous which is the essence of words that act as symbols.David

 

Yes, generally. But, most of all I prefer words that do not confuse or mislead.

 

P.S. I am not suggesting that anyone here intentionally does so. But, sometimes our choice of words can result in confusion or incorrect inferences.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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George,

 

I don’t know you and really have no idea where you are coming from but let me just say (and then you see whether it is worth saying or not) that this same criticism comes from the fundamentalist attack on symbols. A fundamentalist wants the word God to not “confuse or mislead”. So the word God must be clearly understood and you know the obvious ways that is done by the fundamentalist.

 

This same criticism (that the word God should not “confuse or mislead”) comes from the nominalist. Here I don’t know if you agree or not with Tillich in the absolute rejection of nominalism. If you disagree then that is fine, discussion ended. But if you agree with Tillich then pray tell me how the words sacred, oneness and unity can be considered absurd when taken literally. In fact these words seem more to me like descriptive words more in line with nominalism than symbolism.

 

What it seems to me is happening here is that somebody thought they could define God with words better than the word God without any indication that what they were doing (attempting to substitute words for the Divine) was in fact impossible. We do not make this mistake with poetry or song when everyone recognizes that the words are symbolic and not nominalistic. What is really confusing and misleading is when you take out the word God and "sound like" you have spoken to the problem of ambiguity without any indication of the importance of symbols.

 

Thanks for making me think this through.

 

David

Edited by David
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David,

 

I am making no theological or confessional statement. I am merely trying to say that the word 'God' is generally understood with a theistic meaning. And, it has a connotation of a personal (vs. impersonal) noun (see the avoidance of the pronoun 'it' when referring to God - even in this forum).

 

George

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What it seems to me is happening here is that somebody thought they could define God with words better than the word God without any indication that what they were doing (attempting to substitute words for the Divine) was in fact impossible.

David

 

David,

It seems to me you have made an assumption here that may not be the case. Your words seem to assume that the change was made because "somebody thought they could define God better than the word God." How do you know this?

 

It seems to me the reverse is the case. The word God has been given specific definitions by the church system that attempts to define God. All words are symbols. All language is symbolic and meant to 'point' but when a symbol takes on such a specific definition as the church system has given it, then perhaps it is time to use different words. Perhaps words such as Sacred, Divine, Unity of all life and the like which, in my view, more accurately 'points' to that which cannot be defined than the symbol word God because of its traditional teachings that moreso attempts to define the undefinable rather than point.

 

Perhaps in the future, even those new words will take on meaning that require other symbols because of the conditioning they have been given?

 

Joseph

Edited by JosephM
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David,

 

I am making no theological or confessional statement. I am merely trying to say that the word 'God' is generally understood with a theistic meaning. And, it has a connotation of a personal (vs. impersonal) noun (see the avoidance of the pronoun 'it' when referring to God - even in this forum).

 

George

 

I think that is a valid point. According to the definition of God "generally" understood within the traditional or fundamentalist (not the same thing BTW) framework, I would be an atheist. I do believe in the Divine, in the Source and Ground of all, and I choose to name this God. I most certainly do not believe in an elsewhere supernatural being. When I use the word God, I mean something completely different then when my fundamentalist family uses the word. Am I being ambiguous? Not at all. I know exactly who/what I'm talking about, and anyone who reads or hears me would know what I'm talking about. Granted, some may interpret the word differently if taken out of context.

 

I try to avoid using "who/what", "it/he" statements about God by simply using "God". e.g. "God works in and through what God has to work with." That statement is completely unambiguous IMO. Yet, it may be interpretted in different ways depending on one's POV.

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Yvonne,

 

I am curious. If your vision of god is not a personal being in the traditional sense, why do you go out of the way to avoid a pronoun? 'It' is a perfectly acceptable English neuter pronoun. I think one would not likely say, "Jill works in and through what Jill has to work with." One would be more likely to say, "Jill works in and through what she has to work with."

 

Frankly, I have heard even more convoluted statements to avoid 'he,' 'she,' or 'it' by liberal pastors. Often, with liberal theists (who see God as a personal entity but without a sexual nature) I think it is to avoid the gender issue.

 

George

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I am merely trying to say that the word 'God' is generally understood with a theistic meaning.

George, I guess I don't agree. I think the first problem is "generally understood". What "God" means always depends on who is saying it to whom.

 

There are many ways to speak of Ultimate Reality when we search for words to express theological understanding, words to describe mystical experiences, and words to talk about our personal relationship with the cosmos. As David mentioned the language of song, poetry and story will often have personal terms.

 

Although I stick to gender neutral terms, the mistake, I think, is to restrict the list. When talking to someone else "God" is the most efficient. Depending on context I may choose to define my words. But when speaking publicly, as in "praying" (as a social construct) or in worship, I seek a wide range of words to clearly and poetically express my understanding and so it is clear that my concept of God is not limited by what others may assume by my use of "God".

 

In the embrace of the One who loves beyond all understanding,

Dutch

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George - to answer your question - I prefer not to use "it", even though it is acceptable as a gender neutral term, because to people who DO believe in a personal God, referring to God as "it" is somehow disrespectful to them (not to God). That's one reason, I have my personal reasons as well. Also, I don't feel I'm going out of my way to use "God" as opposed to "it". It some instances it might sound awkward, but, oh well. I prefer not to refer to God as "he" if I can possibly avoid it just as a personal preference again. That's all.

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George, I guess I don't agree. I think the first problem is "generally understood". What "God" means always depends on who is saying it to whom.

 

Dutch,

 

I don't want to be argumentative, but we just disagree here. Of course there is variation, but I think that most Christians traditionally believe in the God of the Bible which is a discreet being with human-like characteristics: conscious, named (g.o.d capitalized) and feels emotions (love, anger, compassion, etc.) However, he (the traditional pronoun) is different from humans in terms of immortality, intangibility and omnipotence. The more fundamentalist think of God as male, the more liberal (but still theistic) think of God as without biological sexual features.

 

If one were to approach a thousand strangers on the street and ask, 'Do you believe in God,' I am confident the overwhelming majority would think of an entity with these characteristics. They might answer no, but with reference to a personal entity.

 

George

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I prefer not to use "it", even though it is acceptable as a gender neutral term, because to people who DO believe in a personal God, referring to God as "it" is somehow disrespectful to them (not to God).

 

Yvonne,

 

I think that is a good and respectful reason.

 

I think it also illustrates that 'God' represents a personal being to most people, otherwise there be little risk of offense. I was not consulted on the wording of the revised Eight Points, but I strongly suspect that the G-word was avoided because of the implications. Capitalized words like Sacred, Unity and Oneness don't preclude a traditional understanding (personal being), but they also don't imply a certain concept like the word 'God.'

 

George

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When I converted to Judaism, I was instructed to always write G-d when referring to the deity. I like that. The idea was that it was impossible to narrow the concept of G-d to a single "name," and it made it impossible for unbelievers (like Christians) from lifting texts from Jewish documents, thus taking the L-rd's "name" in vain.

 

Now, I will still use G-d out of habit, but it has no meaning for me. I don't think there is anything beyond what is here and now. I think that the immense capacity for love is HUMAN borne, and not "from above."

 

When I hear someone using a name for a deity, I'm interpreting it as their understanding of the human capacity for Love (or Hate).

 

NORM

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