Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Something's b-gging me

I am noticing a number of Christians writing G-d instead of God. I know this is an ancient Jewish tradition, based on a desire not to abuse or misuse the ineffable 'Name'. But it is surely not something which has any place in a Christian understanding of God or of language.

Moreover, does it not reflect, in Judaism, the fact that Hebrew is written without consonants, so that G-d would be the English-language cultural equivalent of y-h-w-h - something which just doesn't work if your standard theological language or mother tongue is English?

Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad' (or should that be B-ghd-d?) is a person who has my utmost respect, but I notice he does it in all his communiques, and I must admit to finding it slightly bizarre. But now I notice others doing it.

Can someone tell me why this is done by Christians, and why, for example, we don't write F-th-r, or J-s-s?

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  1. Someone like Andrew might be doing this because he doesn't want his e-mails etc to be picked up by search software in his host country looking for key words. I was encouraged to do things like that when working in sensitive areas, especially when using insecure e-mail.

  2. pridespurge used to send comments like this quite regularly. You can see why I gave up reading them.

  3. Don't know about Andrew White, but from a Jewish perspective, and I respect this even in "messianic Jews", the motivation is to not use the name of the Lord in vain.

    I personally don't do this, but I have determined not to let it bug me when someone else does it for that reason, as long as they don't judge me for not doing it.

    There are enough things going on in the Christian world that are truly confusing, saddening, frightening, etc to not be upset by such small inconsequential things.

    Wolf Paul, Vienna, Austria

  4. Phil wrote to me by e-mail:

    "Hi again John

    I would not claim to be too much of an expert, but I do have Jewish friends (both Messianic and otherwise).

    This practice stems from the commandment to treat God’s Name as Holy.

    As with many Jewish traditions, there are nonsensical elements.

    The Name éäåä (YHWH) is considered too Holy to be even used, but some substitute is needed – Jews frequently use HaShem (the Name). There are times when they wish to use “God”, but as that is a translation of YHWH, it is still holy (although not quite so much that you can’t use it. The problem is when you write it. Written communications are often destroyed (put in the bin), and God is too holy to be put in the bin. To avoid that possibly being a violation of the commandment, and on the principle of “building a hedge around the law”, to use G-d instead of God avoids that possibility.

    Many Messianic Jews continue to use this practice, which has led to an increasing use amongst gentile Christians who wish to be more closely related to the Jewish roots of their faith. My view is that this is an unnecessary affectation."

  5. RE teachers use G-d in classes dealing with Judaism. They pout pbuh after Muhammad in classes dealing with Islam. They use Jesus Christ in classes dealing with Christianity. It is a form of respect and it is the educational RE stance of description as if from the inside.

  6. As a Messianic Jew myself, I personally don't care for the practice, but I tolerate it.
    In the Psalms, over and over again, David gloried and rejoiced in the very name of YAHWEH; I'm also quite certain that David was familiar with the third commandment. Can you imagine David boasting and rejoicing in the name of-the name?
    By the way, John, let me take this opportunity to tell you how much I love your blog and look forward to reading it each day. I find myself in agreement with you almost every time. How did you get so smart? - Keith

  7. Perhaps its an effort on their part to follow St. Paul's exhortation to be All things to all people. Outside of this, I can think of no other reason.

    B-st R-g-rds,

    A. Terry

  8. I find the use "G-d" or "G_d" offensive because my mind misreads this as a common oath used by angry people.
    The gurus tell my that if you omit the consonants from all of the various names for God, the most common sound you are left with is something like o or au. They tell me that they are saying God's name when they meditate on Om or Aum.

  9. When I was at theological college in the late seventies, we were taught to say ADONAI for the tetragrammaton. I think we were told that this was the way a Jew would read the Hebrew text and that this was showing respect for Jewish people.

    Do people still do this in Hebrew classes today? Did you, John?

  10. If we assume that God can see what is in our mind or heart when we write about him, then don't we fool ourselves when we write such things as G-d? It's pretty senseless then to try and disguise any 'in vein' use of his name by omitting the vowels. I think God is just a teeny weeny bit smarter than that, and wiser too :)

  11. Isn't it partly a matter of missionary sensitivity? I find the practice irritating and in some people a bit of an affectation (like writing CE instead of AD). I would normally say/write "Yahweh" when dealing with the Hebrew text. But I have said "HaShem" instead when dealing with Jews (e.g. I was asked to read the Shema at the funeral of a lady whose daughter had converted to Judaism), and I can imagine writing "G-d" in a context where anything else was likely to cause ofence and instantly end the conversation- just as, if I invited a Jew or a Muslim to dinner, I wouldn't serve them pork chops. presumably, Andrew White finds himself in these sort of situations all the time. I think this is a sort of verbal equivalent of Paul circumcising Timothy so he can act as a missionary to Jews

    Steve Walton
    marbury, Cheshire

    PS Adrian- what does "pbuh" stand for?

    PPS Phil- isn't "God" a translation of "HaElohim" not "Yahweh"?

    PPS Which raises the question: does anyone write "L--d"?