What Takes the Place of What Used to Be Called God?

Talking about God has never been easy. Augustine, an early Christian theologian, claimed that all our language about God is like babies babbling. The Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas said everything he had written was “straw.” And the Jewish dictum that we should not even pronounce God’s name certainly has not made the task easier.

Visual Depiction of Theism, Pantheism and Panentheism

Credit: Sallie McFague and Eileena Long.

In our present community, conversations about God are further complicated by the fact that increasing numbers of people—including spiritual people—resist the idea of God. This ambivalence was reflected in Tikkun’s cautious invitation to write about what “takes the place of what used to be called God.”

Who is the God that we do not believe in? One problem with God-talk is that the conversational partners often assume that everyone means the same thing by the word “God”: the “guy in the sky,” or some more or less nuanced version of this stereotype. Both inside and outside religious communities, people often assume that “God” refers to a supernatural, all-powerful being who created the world and controls much of what happens on earth, both in public and personal matters. This image may never be discussed, but in ordinary, commonplace conversations, this is the God in whom we do not “believe.” Well, who would believe in such a God?! This view is totally out of line with everything else we know about our world, including postmodern science; hence, it is no wonder that so many educated, thoughtful people do not know how to think about “what used to be called God.”



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Sallie McFague is Distinguished Theologian in Residence at the Vancouver School of Theology in British Columbia and the Carpenter Professor of Theology Emerita at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. She has written widely on religious language and ecological issues. Her most recent book is Blessed are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (Fortress Press, 2013).

Source Citation

McFague, Sallie. 2014. What Takes the Place of What Used to Be Called God? Tikkun 29(3): 22.

tags: Christianity, Rethinking Religion, Spirituality   
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