“Thank God” or “Thank god”?

by | 6 Sep, 2020

Helen Gould, New South Wales Regional Meeting

In the past few years, some people have taken to writing “god” where previously people would have written “God”.  I first noticed this in a journal I read regularly, New Scientist, which has a fairly consistent pattern of regarding religious practices as irrational human behaviours that require anthropological and historical explanations.    So in New Scientist the phrase that I would render as “thank God” would be written as “thank god”.

Confusion arises from the fact that in the Christian religion (and the same is true of Judaism) the deity that Christians worship, the Christian god, is named God.   It is quite simple to work out whether to use “God” or “god”.   If you are using the word as a name, write “God”.  If you can replace the word by “deity”, use “god”.  The Hindus have deities – gods – named Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali and so on; the Muslims’ god is named Allah, the Christians’ god is named God.

I might be offended is someone wrote my name as “helen”; Buddhists might be offended if you wrote the title of their founder as “buddha” and Christians might be offended if you write the name of our god, as “god”.  This is a plea for respect, not for theism – that is another argument.  If the word is used as a proper name, it is “God”, not “god”.

As for “thank God” – this everyday expression is, I believe, outdated theology.  I whole-heartedly agree with Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the great astronomer, who wrote a Backhouse Lecture (2013) entitled “A Quaker astronomer reflects: Can a scientist also be religious?” She wrote (p38-39)  “Recognising that there was not going to be any proof of the existence of God, I decided many years ago to adopt as a ‘working hypothesis’ the assumption that there was a God” (I would rather she had written, “a god called God”)   She continues”…I have not (yet) felt the need to abandon that hypothesis, the roof has not fallen in, and I still have a sense of the numinous!… [however] I find it impossible to believe that God can be both loving and omnipotent – too many people are too badly hurt…my hypothesis includes a loving God who is not in control of the world….if God is not in control of the world then God cannot be blamed when things go badly, nor take the credit when things go well!”   People who don’t “believe in God” are often rejecting supernaturalism, the idea that some happenings are outside the order of Nature.  I agree with them in that everything that happens obeys natural laws – however, having lived among Aboriginal people, I know that Nature is far vaster and more mysterious than we know.  And we, corporately and as individuals, are rapidly destroying other species, and ecosystems, and no belief in God can protect us from the consequences of our actions.  Rather, as Charles Causley wrote,

“God, who does not dwell on high
in the wide, unwinking sky,
But whose gentle counsels start
Simply, in the human heart.”

It is not God we have to thank, for things going well, and at the same time it is good to be thankful!   And, if we are listening in still, silent, expectant waiting, and obeying the promptings of love and truth in our hearts, then we are indeed well regardless of what is happening around us, and for that we can truly thank God.  I can pray,

God, I know You in part.
You are my deepest self, and more
You are my widest, most loving attunement
to all that is.
Guide me in my living today,
Show me what is true, loving, life-giving,
Show me what is needing to be done through me.
May I not outrun nor lag behind my Guide.
Thank you for the inner life of it all.




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