Why I don't call God "the Lord"

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There has been an interesting discussion in another blog over the appropriateness of using the word "Lord" to address or describe God.

It really isn't clear to me why we necessarily need another word for God when we have the word God in the first place. That being said, I admit that sometimes I might use other terminology, such as describing God as simply "the Divine". In a more general terms, I might borrow from Tillich and call God "the Ground of Being". However, those tend to be impersonal; it is difficult to address a prayer to "the Divine", or to begin a prayer with "Dear Ground of All Being". So if we choose to use a different term of address for God, I would prefer to use one that reflects more accurately my understanding of God's nature than the word "Lord" does. In reality, I cringe at the word "Lord"--I don't like it because of what it says about one's conception of God.

The reality is that human understanding of God is necessarily limited and incomplete. Sometimes he best we can do is attempt to get our minds around God through metaphors. In a sense, one could say that the various religions of the world have developed as part of the incomplete and human attempt at understanding God within given cultural and historical contexts--thus we have different religions with different conceptions of God. The English word "Lord" is a clumsy translation from what was written and spoken in the languages of the Bible. Neither Jesus, nor the apostle Paul, nor the writers of the Hebrew Bible ever used the word "Lord". They didn't speak English--the language obviously didn't even exist at the time--so they never could have used that English word. Yet some, even liberal Christians, have justified using the word "Lord" because Jesus or Paul did! To me, that is kind of like the old joke that if the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for us. Obviously, that makes no sense.

English translators from the Middle Ages may have chosen to use a term from the feudal world that they were familiar with. The word "Lord" reflects not only a feudalistic world view, but a sexist and transcendently theistic conception of God. We speak of the "lord of the manor", who is obviously male (the female equivalent would be, of course, the lady of the manor). To lord over someone is to dominate them. What kind of conception of God is it when we use language like that to describe the Divine?

I simply don't view God as not a male authority figure who dispenses favors according to his whims, or who exercises his domineering power to manage or manipulate the world. As a panentheist, I believe that God is a non-authoritarian presence who inhabits the world and who is inhabited by the world. This old concept of the authoritarian, favor-dispensing, omnipotent God who intervenes in nature is what Spong calls a "theistic" conception, rather than a panentheist one.

The use of "Lord" language only reinforces this old stereotype about God that is part of the paradigm that I believe needs to be replaced by a new one. Language does matter. When we use male language about God, we exclude the feminine from our conception of the overwhelmingly fundamental reality of the world, and by extension, we make the feminine gender secondary in how we conceive the world as well. When we use authoritarian language about God, we perpetuate a kind of theism that is meaningless in the context of a modern, rational understanding of the world, and we further perpetuate the idea of authoritarianism as the Ultimate model from which base our human interactions in the world. How can we pursue a world of justice and equality if our concept of the highest and greatest reality of the universe is modeled on an authoritarian image?

I suggest that, as we evolve our conception and understanding of God, it is time to put the Lord language to rest as we build a new paradigm for a religion of the twenty first century.

3 comments:

Rob said...

While accepting your arguments about the masculinity of the word "Lord", and the problems with it, I would suggest that there is value in the word "Lord".

The Hebrew, Adoni, implies the One who is a master. Although you have rejected this conception of God, many have not. For them, God has both a right to order their lives, and does so. In this way, God is Lord for them.

With respect for your pluralism, there are those who view God as personal and as being worth leading them. For them, God is Lord and should be identified as such.

To say that the word needs to be replaced, and the paradigm that houses it as well, is not pluralist at all, but simply a new imperalism where your values and view are lionized and the voices of others are marginalized and supressed.

Real pluralism is to recognize the validity in multiple points of view and to respect them. It is also to refuse to impose one's understanding on another.

With respect.

Mystical Seeker said...

Others are obviously free to use terminology that I would choose not to, or to believe in a God as a patriarchal father figure who dispenses favors upon his whim, and to otherwise use any other aspect of the old paradigm if they wish to. I do not argue otherwise. Whatever works for other people is up to them.

But pluralism doesn't mean that I have to agree with what everyone else does in the name of religion. Pluralism recognizes the value that religion brings to people's lives as they try to understand God. Even people who call God "Lord" can have their lives transformed wonderfully through their relationship with the divine--and I never argued otherwise.

I believe that revelation is an ongoing process, and as a result it is natural and inevitable that some religious ideas will be jettisoned over time. To cite an example, Levitical laws make no sense to me and a lot of other people who still honor and respect the Jewish scriptures.

The further point is that, regardless of what works for some people who might call God "the Lord", for some people, the old paradigm simply doesn't work. For many of us, this old paradigm must be replaced, because we can no longer accept the old paradigm. There is nothing imperialist about saying that our understanding of God is not served by an old paradigm. On the contrary, it is simply an expression of that pluralism that says that we have to move beyond a paradigm that doesn't work for us.

CT said...

To me its just recognising that this being you are praying to has ultimate authority over your own life. Its more personal than God because you are indicating a relationship by using the term Lord. Yes historically it had a masculine origin but does that penetrate the subconscious and contaminate the relationship ? I doubt it.

Remembering back to when I used to pray and I used Lord when I was imagining an intimacy or close relationship where I was implying I would follow the direction that God provided. ( Not that I got any )