Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On calling God "Lord"

PB wrote on her blog:

I'm waiting for the day a UU actually asks me what *I* think of the word "Lord" and why I would intentionally reclaim it. But this probably won't happen in my lifetime; not at the rate we're going here, anyway.

PB mentions earlier that she has an education from a well-regarded progressive seminary and does indeed understand that some people don't like the term "Lord."

Not actually having a degree from a place like that, despite what they seem to think, I actually hadn't thought through the word "Lord" much.

I was raised liberal Christian, but sensitive to gender neutral language. I frequently used feminine forms of the language, but somehow "Lord" escaped my attention, perhaps because the feminine form sounds so odd in the vocative. The word "Lady" lacks majesty and brings to mind exclamations like "Lady, could you move your car? I'm trying to back out here and you've got me blocked in..."

Also, I don't remember hearing "Lord" a whole bunch as a liberal christian except as direct quotes from the bible. I think I really didn't pick up the word for casual conversation about religion until I moved down south and started to befriend Baptists. Expressions like "Doing the Lord's work" roll off my tongue, but phrases like "a sub rosa agreement" do, too. Both feel like understood phrases in a foreign language.

I have to say, I don't think the term "Lord" has much to recommend it for serious conversations, though I know Peacebang will show me in no uncertain terms that this is not the only rational point of view. God as I perceive God doesn't have a personality in the sense that humans do and is more of a force, so debates over how exactly God would like to be addressed are pretty moot. I can understand that a certain level of formality seems appropriate when addressing a diety, but the word Lord seems a suboptimal choice. It comes from the Old English for "loaf bearer," one who provides food for his followers. I recognize one develops a certain loyalty to the being who feeds one, but I somehow think one's affection for one's God should be above that, even when the food is spiritual. One thing I've never liked about Christianity is what seems to me to be a rather serious focus on what one can get out of God. The term Lord, when fully undersood, seems to emphasize this dynamic. Other uses of the term make it even less suitable for something to call one's deity, IMHO. I mean, doesn't God deserve at least a Dukedom?

OK, I like a good discussion about words. What do y'all think of "Lord?"


Ps. PB fans read this.


Anonymous said...

Most of what you say about using human relational language for God is what you would learn in any well regarded liberal seminary.

They teach us a few other things, but you got the God talk stuff right, God is not God's name. The names we give to God are reflections of our own striving.

Chalicechick said...

Oh, I know, CK. That was why I phrased it as "God as I percieve God."


Joel Monka said...

Many of my friends worship a dual divinity, and address both Lord and Lady, and I live four blocks from a church called "Our Lady of Lourdes"- none of them are confused when someone says "Lady, would you move your car?"

Chalicechick said...

Fair enough. What sounds odd to one is indeed a subjective thing.


Peregrinato said...

For me, "Lord" recognizes God's sovereignty. Yes, it stipulates a relationship: just as Creator has a Creature. Lord has a Servant. Of course, I do come froma fully theistic notion of the God who interacts and engages personally with the world, and while we may not be able to "name" that entity per se, we are given multiple opportunities for naming. I do believe that Lord is an acceptable name, just as a believe Mother, Father, and Creator are acceptable. These words are not just arbitrary but convey meaning and relationship. In this, they may reflect more than just our own striving, but God's reaching out to us.

alkali said...

I don't think the term "Lord" has much to recommend it for serious conversations ...

I think that's a fair statement, although I don't think there's any reason to stamp out its use where its use accords with tradition (e.g., in lyrics, inscriptions, traditional prayers).

Peregrinato said...

I have to say, I don't think the term "Lord" has much to recommend it for serious conversations

This is, unfortunately, an example of the UU Sword of Damocles. That which UUs use to liberate themselves is also used to cut down another's spirituality--because implicit (well, explicit, really) in this statement is the suggestion that my spiritual life and my dialogue with (or about) God can't be taken seriously because I use "Lord." So

Chalicechick said...

I'm sorry, I did my best to say that this was for MY conversations and MY perception of God and YMMV, but I guess I did come off as talking about everyone there.

My bad.


Peregrinato said...

The clarification is deeply appreciated :)

Chalicechick said...

Hey, even Damocles himself knew to get out while the getting out is good.


Steve Caldwell said...

I'm thinking of a comedy movie called The Stupids where two characters think they've died and gone to heaven but actually they've met a janitor named Lloyd:

Stanley: Hail to thee, Oh Lord.

Lloyd: Actually, it's pronounced 'Lloyd'.

Stanley: [to Petunia] All these years we've been saying it wrong.

Not that this doesn't have anything to do with a serious theology thread, but wouldn't it be interesting if we found out that we've been "saying it wrong" for so many years when talking about god and trying to fit human labels on god.

LaReinaCobre said...

This is assuming, of course, that God speaks English.

Chalicechick said...

I wondered about this a lot as a kid. Eventually assumed that God speaks "meaning" and the form you put the meaning into matters little.

Now I don't think God really communicates exactly. But that's just me.


fausto said...

Kim, you said elsewhere that you don't believe PeaceBang appreciates how deeply Christianity has hurt people. I hear you saying here, "I'm offended by PeaceBang because as someone who considers herself Christian she wants to use a Christian vocabulary, and the Christian vocabulary offends me. Why should I not be free to voice honestly my sense of offense?"

PeaceBang responded that she is fully aware of the harm caused by Christianity, but I'm going to disagree with the entire premise. "Christianity" has never hurt anyone; only individual Christians practicing Christianity hypocritically, contrary to the compassion and forgiveness exemplified by Jesus, have. Similarly, "Islam" did not cause 9/11, and "the Jews" did not murder Jesus, as is too widely presumed, but misguided individuals acting wrongly out of a flawed understanding of the highest values of those faiths did.

There's a word for judging broad classes of people for the ostensible shortcomings of the entire group, rather than individuals on their personal merit. People with that tendency also have a tendency to give personal offense to individuals without realizing it or intending it.

So if you identify yourself as a victim of, or in solidarity with victims of, "Christianity"--

and if for that reason you feel justified in broadly denigrating all of Christianity or the vocabulary and trappings of Christianity, or in harboring secret anger and resentment toward those who advocate for Christianity, or in discouraging people from learning about or practicing Christianity, or in feeling either open or veiled contempt for Christianity or Christians--

and most especially, if you don't appreciate or care to learn about the very significant differences between orthodox Christianity and the sharply heterodox variants of it that have traditionally been practiced in the Unitarian and Universalist churches that comprise your own denomination--

then in love and concern I suggest that you should carefully examine whether that may be your own problem and not "Christianity's".

Robin Edgar said...

Well I am not big on using the word 'Lord' as a name or title of God for the same reasons that some others have already provided here.

It is a clearly masculine honorific that perpetuates the patriarchal monotheistic tradition that presents God as a purely male deity.

It also quite obviously presents God as a kind of feudal ruler or king and I just don't like the blind loyalty and obedience that is implicit in that "medieval" concept of God.

I regret using the term "the Eye of the Lord" instead of "the Eye of God" in the past in some of my writing about the total solar eclipse's "Eye of God" symbolism.

fausto said...

Kim, what I am saying is that many UUs, and from your posts over the last day or two you seem to be one of them, seem so prejudiced against Christianity -- in the sense of presumptive "pre-judging" -- that you give offense to individual Christians without even being aware that you do so. You make individuals feel that you are condemning them personally for their affirmation of a belief system that you appear to deem oppressive and harmful in its entirety, even when you do not say so directly, or even think you are implying it.

I am saying that what seems to be your comprehensive judgment in turn seems to be based entirely, and inappropriately, on an empirical pattern of specific wrongful acts performed by specific individuals at specific times, rather than on the normative general premises and moral values of the Christian belief system that in fact do apply to all Christians at all times. I do not hear you objecting to Christianity on the grounds of its theology or cosmology, but only on the grounds of the behavior of some of its adherents. I am not denying the reality or wrongfulness or harmful consequences of those acts, but I am denying the validity of the general inferences and presumptions that you seem to draw from them. If you really are drawing faulty moral judgments from faulty underlying premises, then yes, I am saying that it is you and not PeaceBang who has a problem.

I am saying that if you are in fact applying the top-down, categorical standard of judgment that you appear to be applying, that is itself unfair and oppressive, not only toward Christianity as a general belief system, but also and especially toward individual Christians.

I am saying that if you object when UU Christians use traditional Christian language on the grounds that the language itself is inherently tainted, you are implicitly extending the blame for what you perceive as the oppressions of Christianity to them, even if you do not explicitly condemn them as individuals, and that it is wrong to do so.

I am saying that even if orthodox Christianity were as guilty as you seem to suppose, for over 200 years Unitarian and Universalist Christians have always taken care to distinguish their own beliefs and practices sharply from those of orthodox Christianity in many of the matters that you appear to find most offensive about the wider Christian tradition.

I am saying that you and many other UUs do not seem aware enough or interested enough in the substantive differences between orthodox Christianity and its UU (and other liberal) variants to be willing to make an exception even for your fellow UUs in your broad attribution of Christian culpability. Like many other UUs, you do not seem to appreciate that, contrary to your suppositions about Christianity generally, it was in fact the inherent inclusivity rather than oppressiveness of liberal Christianity that allowed your denomination to become the inclusive and affirming place that it is today. Instead, it seems to be enough that some of your fellow UUs merely call themselves "Christian" and use traditional Christian language for you to be willing to judge their words and worship to be personally offensive to you, and to feel entitled to speak out in honest protest.

I am saying that if that is indeed your judgment, it is not only mistaken but also damaging to the wider UU community, being fundamentally bound together as we are in covenants of mutual support and affirmation, and that your sense of personal entitlement is therefore misplaced.

Finally, I am saying that even if your perception is correct, and contemptuous self-righteousness and wrongful condemnation are characteristic Christian failings that have hurt many people, they are failings that are certainly not unique to Christianity. When we UUs place as much emphasis as we do on the ultimate moral authority of the individual and on protesting injustice, we need to be especially aware that we have built ourselves a glass house before we give ourselves permission to cast stones.

Robin Edgar said...

Well I can certainly vouch for the fact that contemptuous self-righteousness and wrongful condemnation are characteristic "Humanist" U*U failings that have hurt many people. . .

:When we UUs place as much emphasis as we do on the ultimate moral authority of the individual and on protesting injustice, we need to be especially aware that we have built ourselves a glass house before we give ourselves permission to cast stones.

Well said. . . Indeed I am living proof of that am I not Fausto?

Anonymous said...

fausto -- You know, it’s pretty obvious from your reaction and from PB’s that it’s pretty much impossible not to offend you. I didn’t intend to, but apparently I did. I’m sorry for that. But I don’t see any way to avoid it with the way you guys react.
You said, “I am saying that if you object when UU Christians use traditional Christian language on the grounds that the language itself is inherently tainted, you are implicitly extending the blame for what you perceive as the oppressions of Christianity to them, even if you do not explicitly condemn them as individuals, and that it is wrong to do so.”
I’m saying that what the original post said, – what I was saying is that I DID NOT object to your use of the language, I just didn’t LIKE it. You, obviously don’t like my beliefs either, though you have never expressed any interest in what they might be, you have only made assumptions, most of which are wrong.
What I hear you saying is that you have a right to express your Christian beliefs, and I’d better like it and not feel negatively about it, but you have no such obligation in reverse.
If you make good points, I can change course – ask CC. I am perfectly capable of apologizing sincerely, and changing. You just haven’t come up with anything yet that makes me feel like that. You are lecturing me on support and affirmation, but I think you completely misread my original post, were looking for some imagined atheist to attack, and pounced. Why isn’t it ok for me to say “I am ok with you believing that, but I don’t agree with it?” (which is what I thought I said) If it’s my wording you object to, then why didn’t you say that? Wording can be very problematical in print, and blogging isn’t great literature – we’re tired and moving fast and having trouble thinking of the right phrase and type anyway…. So it comes out sounding other than it was intended – if you had called me on that, I could have apologized and rephrased, maybe learned something, and we could all have gone on. Instead, it’s turned out to be this big deal that leaves everyone feeling hurt and indignant. What a waste.

PeaceBang said...

Hey Kim,
Did you know that I am of Jewish heritage?
Yea. I know a thing or two about Christian harm. My people were murdered in pogroms. They were exterminated by the Nazis.
I've been the victim of anti-Semitism myself, and violent anti-Semitism, not just verbal. When I was a kid my father told us to be extra careful on Good Friday, as that was the day that Jews were traditionally beaten within an inch of their lives, all while the authorities looked the other way.

Did you know that I have lectured and taught extensively about the witch hunts in medieval Europe, all of which were sponsered by the Catholic and the Reform Church? Of course not. How could you have known?
But see, you could have just *asked me* how I could be a Christian knowing what monumental harm the Church has done over the centuries instead of clucking about how I must just be real ignorant about it. Then we could have had a really interesting conversation.
Apparently, and sadly, you were just too invested in seeing me as a credulous fool who just doesn't KNOW the history of Christianity to risk that conversation. As you continue to affirm even here.

When you say, "I don't have to respect Christianity, because it's ideas, not people," what I hear is a twisted analogy to the fundamentalist preacher advising his people to "hate the sin, love the sinner." There's nothing but judgment, rejection and superiority in both instances.

Nobody's attacking you. Try approaching a faithful Jew or Buddhist or Muslim who's sharing his heartfelt reflections on faith and telling him, "hey, whatever floats your boat" and see how warmly you're received.

At least I care enough about you to know you capable of much more thoughtful discourse than that.

But really, you've got to give up that "how can she really know that stuff if she's never been the recipient of it" line. You have no idea how deep an offense you cause when you say that, and how profoundly you unintentionally dishonor my integrity and my intelligence.

If you want to know how to do this better, starting with questions rather than assumptions is a good practice for us all to embrace.

fausto said...

What I hear you saying is that you have a right to express your Christian beliefs, and I’d better like it and not feel negatively about it, but you have no such obligation in reverse.

Kim, if that is what you hear I apologize, because that's not at all what I meant to say. I have not insisted that you "like" Christianity, nor have I expressed anything negative about your own beliefs.

What I did mean to say is that I see your harsh judgment against the entirety of Christianity as a personal prejudice, not a valid moral stand, and like all prejudices, it is wrong, unfair and oppressive. If you see any merit in Christianity to offset the inherent harmfulness of Christianity that you have asserted, I have not heard you speak of it. Instead, you feel perfectly free to compare what you deem to be the thoroughness of its evil with that of the institution of slavery.

If you do see merit in Christianity, if you are willing to affirm and support the efforts of individual UUs who are drawn to the merits of Christianity rather than warning them that they are on a mistaken quest, then my perception is wrong and I apologize. However, you have not yet said anything to suggest that you do in fact hold such a neutral or equivocal position. If you are not willing to recognize offsetting merits in Christianity that afford it some degree of moral or spiritual validity, then I think my diagnosis of prejudice on your part is correct.

Even if I am wrong about your personal view of Christianity, what still offends me is that so many other UUs who fight other prejudices so vigorously do in fact harbor the same unexamined and in my view immoral prejudice against Christianity. It offends me that they are willing to give themselves a free pass on this one, and that they expect their fellow UUs to allow them to do so. I think it's an ugly, hypocritical, Pharisaical stance that violates almost every covenant of community that we have.

Since liberal Christianity is also the root and source of the entire UU denomination, denying its moral validity also destroys our institutional moral foundations, and invites institutional collapse.

fausto said...

Robin said:

Well said. . . Indeed I am living proof of that am I not Fausto?

Are you still gnawing on that bone? Give up and move on, it will consume you before you ever consume it. There are better victories in life yet to win.

Since you ask, though, the way I would say it is that the your experience with UCM is living proof that even the authority of personal witness needs to be held subordinate to covenanted obligations to the community -- on both sides of any disagreement. Your experience is living proof of how badly the community can be damaged when mutually exclusive personal opinions are instead given precedence. The communal covenant has to trump the personal opinions of any individual who wishes to remain in covenant with the community, when the two come into conflict.

To apply that general principle to the immediate conversation, I do think that comprehensive prejudice against Christianity on moral grounds (as opposed to disagreement with the theological or cosmological premises of Christianity or theism) constitutes a breach of our denominational covenant, the Principals and Purposes, as well as all of our most common congregational covenants.

Anonymous said...

fausto -- you said, "If you see any merit in Christianity to offset the inherent harmfulness of Christianity that you have asserted, I have not heard you speak of it."

Does that mean you didn't see where I wrote that I was in substantial agreement with Jesus? Or don't you identify Christianity with Jesus? Or are you just so prejudiced yourself that you assumed what I thought and didn't really pay attention? After all, as I said, and you ignored, the original post said that I had no problem with some Christian phraseology from the pulpit as long as it was mixed with other stuff. That, in fact, was the gist of my post. Why is that so much of a problem for you? If all this brouhaha is from a post where I said you (and I intended the generic "you") can use C words as long as you please the other people too, then it seems obvious to me that you are objecting to the concept that others besides Christians should ALSO be accommodated. That was what i was trying, apparently badly, to say in my original post. I was not putting down Christianity, I was just trying to defend the people who have a problem with it. I apologize again for how badly it came out, it wasn't intended.
This discussion has certainly made me aware both that I am indeed prejudiced against Christianity, and it has deepened that prejudice. I started out having no problem at all with liberal Christianity. Now I am questioning that too. You have never asked what I believe (don't bother, I don't want to talk about it), but I not only have friends who are liberal Christians, I have a few friends who are non-liberal Christians, including one right-wing fundamentalist who believes in the Rapture. You didn't start out by asking what I meant and if I had expressed myself badly and didn't I know how it sounded? You, and PB, pounced on me and made assumptions AND THEN GAVE ME ADVICE TO ASK QUESTIONS AND NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS! If you both had followed your own advice at the beginning, none of this would have happened ('course, all the great discussions about the word "Lord" might not have happened either....). I would have apologized and reframed my comment or just deleted it and we could have gone on peacefully. I have apologized a couple of times now. It has been ignored. What do you want, blood?

fausto said...

Apology accepted, and please accept mine too. I am sorry for speaking so sharply and putting you on the defensive about things that you didn't intend to imply.

I did see what you wrote about Jesus, but you seemed to be drawing a distinction between Jesus himself and Christianity, so I didn't take it that you were recognizing admirable traits of Christianity.

I agree with you completely that we UUs need to express our spirituality in many vocabularies, and not restrict ourselves to only one. But you said some other things that suggest that the Christian vocabulary used by all Christians, including our own UU and other liberal ones, is so tainted by the harm perpetrated in the name of Christianity that it can reasonably be expected always to give offense. I think that kind of sweeping generalization implicitly attributes inherent blame to all Christianity and all Christians, including UU and other liberal ones. That sort of generalization amounts to a false accusation against the liberal Christians in our own denomination, especially if you don't mean to hold liberal Christians responsible for the hurts that you say Christianity in general has caused.

I think if we can recognize that the oddball varieties of Christianity that have always been observed within Unitarianism and Universalism are not responsible for whatever harm other Christians or Christian traditions may have caused, then we should be able to welcome their Christian language into the smorgasbord of UU religious vocabularies without fearing that it might offend some of us. After all, it's already been there longer than any other vocabulary anyway.

That doesn't mean that we should all feel entirely at home with Christian beliefs -- and it may surprise you to know that I don't, myself, not entirely -- but it does mean that we ought to avoid framing issues in ways that implicitly blame our UU Christian brothers and sisters for sins they never committed, and make them feel unwelcome in their own religious home.

Anonymous said...

fausto -- thank you. apology accepted. I feel, with great relief, that we are getting to de-escalation. Whew.
I will try to be more careful in the future to not paint all Christians with the same brush. Certainly Servetus wasn't the same as the people who burned him at the stake for saying something they didn't agree with. (Did Servetus ever execute anyone for heresy? I have never heard that he did anything of the sort.)
Actually, in a discussion earlier this year, I made the point that, in UUism, everyone's beliefs are minority beliefs -- and unfortunately sometimes it looks like we all think we are persecuted minorities. Is it inherant in being a minority to feel persecuted? That may be the real question.

Robin Edgar said...

I don't have any persecution complex. Far from it. But a free and responsible examination of the well-documented pertinent facts will show that I am indeed an unjustly persecuted (to say nothing of falsely and even maliciously prosecuted. . .) minority of one amongst U*Us. . .

Rev NDM said...

“I mean, doesn't God deserve at least a Dukedom?”

Not necessarily; the term “lord” can and has been used in various political/social situations as a generic term to designate “the person most in charge” and doesn’t mean that said person is of a rank lower than another (as in your example, a Duke). For example, the British Sovereign is appropriately called the “Lord of Mann” when visiting Man(n) or performing duties related to her/his status there.

We have lords of parliament, lords of the manor, landlords, Lord Chancellor, Lord High Treasurer, Lord President of the Council, and lords spiritual, to name but a few. And in some languages (such as Spanish and Italian), the term “lord” is used today as the analog to the English “mister” which of course, is a contortion of “master.”

Now, having been pedantic for my own amusement, I too generally don’t use “Lord” language, but having seen it used across many religions (such as Buddhism and Hinduism) it is less itchy to me than to others here. I mean even my Catholic Catechism teacher from way back in the dark ages told us God is a spirit, and thus has no gender. Made sense to me :)

Anonymous said...

We have lords of parliament, lords of the manor, landlords, Lord Chancellor, Lord High Treasurer, Lord President of the Council, and lords spiritual, to name but a few.

You left out my favorite: (from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado) Lord High Keeper of the Back Stairs. :-)