A quick glance at a few different faith traditions shows just how many ways there are to speak about the divine. For example, some traditional Jews won’t say the word God because they believe that it is too holy to pronounce. One is forbidden from making any representations of God—even in speech. When reading the Bible out loud, one is to replace the Hebrew word for G-d with the word Adonai, meaning Lord.
Sister Nancy Corcoran, a Catholic nun, argues against using the word, Lord, although it is a common word in Christian prayer as well as Jewish prayer. For her, the term Lord does make a representation—of a male God (notice, though, how the adjective “male” had to appear in front of the word, God, to indicate God had a gender). Sister Corcoran is an advocate of the name for God developed by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a Professor of Divinity at Harvard University Divinity School. Taking a similar approach to that of Orthodox Jews, “Schussler Fiorenza prefers the spelling G*d because it suggests that, as humans, our ideas of and names for God are ambiguous and inadequate. It also allows for a God without male or female characteristics.”
How does Fiorenza pronounce the word G*d? This word looks as un-pronounce-able as the symbol used as a name for three years by the musician Prince. Unclear also are the reasons why, for Fiorenza, the word God necessarily suggests male or female characteristics. Certainly, many theologians and philosophers throughout the ages have not associated male or female characteristics with this word (like Fiorenza, they’ve also argued that our ideas of God are ambiguous and inadequate but, unlike her, they did not argue we should abandon the word). Okay, sure, the Bible refers to God as Him, but today, pronouns are often eliminated by sensitive theologians and philosophers (even if this sometimes results in awkward sentences). Take, for example, the sentence: “God wants you to love others as much as you love yourself or God’s Self.”
Just like we use the single word, actor, to refer to either a female (formerly known as an actress) or a male actor, the single word, god, can refer to a female god, a male god, a god without gender, a god with both genders, etc. (in the last two cases, the analogy with the word, actor, fails!). Unlike the word, Goddess, which does imply gender, the word, God, does not. Thanks to its plasticity, it is the superior choice. So why mess with it?
HNFFT (Her Nakedness’ Food for Thought): What do you call God? Does it imply has a gender? Can it serve as the word of appeal for anyone, male or female?
References: Nancy Corcoran. A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2007), 119.