Why do you still capitalize “God”?

thatdevilguy (from my channel page):

What I don’t understand is your reverence in referring to your alleged former god. Why the God and Him like he is something rather than god or him as in he is not worthy of such exaltation.

“God” and “god” are different concepts. A god is an entity who shares universal power with other gods. Examples are the gods of the Greek pantheon such as Zeus, Hera, and Hades, or the gods of the Egyptian pantheon such as Ra, Isis, and Anubis. A God is an entity from which all universal power originates and has nothing even approximating an equal. Examples are the God of Christianity or the God of pantheism. It is the difference between referring to polytheism and singular forms of theism like monotheism and pantheism. The capitalization alone makes this distinction in English.

Yes, some atheists intentionally de-capitalize the word “God” to diminish its reverence in human culture. But, to me, this feels like a cheap attack on the concept of “God” by associating it with the very different and, by definition, inferior concept of “god”.

I prefer to dismantle the concept of God with its full, powerful, and all-encompassing meaning, as intended by Christians and theists in general. This way, I bear no resemblance to attacking a straw man and give theists no room to claim I have misrepresented their position.

The practice of giving others the best possible representation before refuting their position is called The Principle of Charity. It facilitates accurate thinking by forcing you to mentally steer clear of straw men from the start of an argument. It also facilitates effective communication by making others feel understood and preemptively defusing claims of misrepresentation. It has been a guiding principle for my entire series as well as my interpersonal relationships in general.

26 comments on “Why do you still capitalize “God”?

  1. Ruben says:

    I agree, the Principle of Charity is a good practice with which to engage in debate but I really don’t see the distinctions you’ve given between “god” and “God.” It seems to me you’re adding details to an imaginary entity in much the same way all theists (not just of the Abrahamic flavors), do. I do however, capitalize the specific name of the god in question (i.e. Jesus, Baast, etc), as is proper of an actual name. I think of the word god in much the same way that the word king which is spelled in lower case, so too is god as it is a title, rather than a name. The exception to that would be when the word king is followed by a name, then it would be capitalized. In Yahweh’s case, that might be a little strange. God Yahweh? Lord Yahweh might work but I’ve yet to see anyone refer him like that.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      The difference is in the worldview associated with the deity. In the “God” worldview, there is one God with all the power, as is the case with the final monotheistic iteration of God worshipped by Christians. In the “god” worldview, there are multiple gods that all share power with each other, as is the case in Hinduism or Greek or Egyptian polytheism. I’m not sure why people are having such a hard time seeing a distinction between the two concepts.

      • Ruben says:

        I think most of us have a hard time with these distinctions because we understand god (and all the extra baggage that title supposedly carries), to be a fictional character. Even different sects of Christianity differ on various aspects of Yahweh and Jesus so whether god is capitalized or not, I really don’t think it’s a salient issue. I’m far more concerned with any evidence concerning the existence of Yahweh, Jesus or any other positive claims of the Torah, Bible, Quran, etc, etc.

        • Andy Kimber says:

          Think of it like this: it’s like the difference between Daredevil, the Marvel superhereo, and other fictional daredevils like, say, Indiana Jones or Xander Cage from XXX. They’re all daredevils, but only one is properly capitalised.

      • German says:

        I agree. The using of the capital God gives you the accuracy you need when expressing you opinion on a particular persona. Plus, there is no need to distract them from the argument by doing something that is clearly offensive to them, such as calling it god, while the idea s to get it through their minds that there is no such thing as their God.

  2. Leon says:

    This doesn’t address your use of capitalized pronouns. I capitalize God to be clear rather than to be polite or to build rapport. But I’ve never been able to decide if capitalizing pronouns comes off as respectful rather than smarmy or ironic. Never having been a Christian myself, I just cave in to force of habit, and do not capitalize.

    Do you think there’s a compelling reason to capitalize pronouns when talking to devout believers?

  3. This is why I refer to him by his name, Yahweh. Many christians don’t even know that that’s his name.

  4. TW says:

    While I respect your work with these topics Evid3nc3 I have to disagree with you on your reasons for capitalizing God verse god. I understand it might not make Christians happy to see it presented in that manner but factually (as you discussed in your video’s) Yahwen is as much a polytheistic god as Zeus is. I prefer to use it in how I view is the correct manner, lower case as according to history he wasn’t ‘the one and only god’ just edited to be viewed so. Continuing to capitalize this does discredit to the judeo christian history (not that many of them actually know their god was originally one of many).

    • evid3nc3 says:

      But, conceptually, there is a difference. It has nothing to do with “not offending” Christians. That is a common misconception of the Principle of Charity. It has to do with getting someone’s argument right and, therefore, attacking the right argument.

      The argument I reference in A History of God is meant to show where the idea of the monotheistic God came from. It evolved from the conceptual idea of a polytheistic god. However, to say it is still the same concept is like saying Obama is a king because the idea of presidents evolved from the idea of kings.

      If you are making an argument against the idea of kings to criticize the position of Obama, you are attacking the wrong concept, because Obama is a president. The concept of presidents may have originated from the concept of kings and that fact may be used to attack it. But they are still different concepts, requiring different arguments.

  5. Dave says:

    Just to clarify, Mormons believe that the trinity are three separate beings. When typing to a Mormon, would you use ‘god’?

  6. Rob Wolfram says:

    I capitalize God when I use it as a name and not when I use it as a noun.

  7. Brandon says:

    Was curious if you have ever read any of Joseph Campbell’s work?

  8. That’s not how English works. We capitalize proper nouns and the pronoun “I.” Regular nouns are not capitalized (unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence). You don’t choose to capitalize a regular noun based on which definition of it you want to use, no matter how different you think that definition is from the others. That simply isn’t how the English language works. Capitalize the word “God” if it’s a proper noun (e.g., “Dear God, please make people on the Internet use better punctuation and spelling.”). Otherwise, provided it isn’t at the beginning of a sentence, don’t capitalize it (e.g., “The gods of the Internet have cursed us with a plague of apostrophes!”).

    P.S. Please don’t capitalize pronouns referring to God. It’s so obnoxious, and it makes the grammar gods angry.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      Because the singular types of theism (e.g. monotheism and pantheism) always refer to a single God, the reference is always unique and therefore always a proper noun. So, yes, this usage is indeed motivated by the rules of English.

      • Reference to a unique object isn’t a reason to capitalize a word in English if it isn’t a proper name. You don’t capitalize the word “car” when you’re referring to a car that belongs to a person who only owns one car (e.g., “Steve’s Car has a flat tire”). English doesn’t work like that.

        • evid3nc3 says:

          God is different because within those theistic worldviews, there is only one God. There is no worldview in which there is only one Car. Even in theistic worldviews like pantheism, where God is not necessarily a conscious agent, it is still a singular unique entity, justifying capitalization for the same reason we capitalize Earth and Jupiter.

          It is also irrelevant if the worldview is entirely fictional or inaccurate. For example, it is still grammatically correct to capitalize the Force when referencing the singular source of power in Star Wars. The God of pantheism is grammatically identical and semantically similar to the Force of Star Wars.

  9. nako says:

    Yahweh and Allah are examples of Gods which are a type of god.

    Does this usage fly with you?

    • evid3nc3 says:

      Only if you are referring to their polytheistic instantiations. E.g. Yahweh was a god when he was part of the polytheistic Hebrew pantheon. But not after Hebrew religion shifted to monotheism. Within that worldview, there is a single God.

      I understand that atheists often consider every single supernatural being to exist in one gigantic polytheistic melting pot, and therefore all be “gods”. This is a useful argument to make about human psychology (i.e. that our minds are like factories for supernatural beings). However, ultimately, we are still refuting arguments for God, a unique singular entity, not just arguments for gods.

      • nako says:

        That sounds ok with me. I do consider pantheistic Gods to be a certain type of god (so I believe both forms are ok), just as I consider polytheistic gods or animistic spirits to be certain types of gods. Whatever particular claims are being made to describe them (‘this god created the universe’) should be dealt with in the honest consideration that you describe.

  10. Astra Starr says:

    Interesting! I recently stopped using capital letters for gods or goddesses unless it is to used as a proper noun. That is what the dictionary says and as a student that is what I was told. However, I do see this often broken even in textbooks. For instance when ‘spirit’ is being used to denote a god, it is often capitalized. By the methodology I use, this is incorrect, and I will go as far to change it on my papers and refute it if I have points taken off. I use it the way I would King or Empress. If I am mentioning Spirit Zeus (if that was his title and used as such) I would capitalize it, just like I would for Saint Mark, or King Philip. Otherwise emperor, king, saint, god, goddess… none of these are names and therefore do not get that privilege. Allah is a name, god of the Jews is not, but Jesus Christ is. Jehovah is a name but when I “refer to a single god”, it is still a descriptor, not a name. Food for thought! -Anthropology student <3

  11. Cale says:

    What I don’t understand is your reverence in referring to your former friend Greg. Why the “Greg” like he is something (special?) rather than “greg” as in he is not worthy of such exaltation.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      lol. Great reductio ad absurdum.

      Although your reforming of the original question reminds me that I am not at all concerned with reverence but, rather, conceptual accuracy.

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