“God” as Placeholder in Common Conversation

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I was speaking with a friend recently about an idea regarding the usage of the word “God” as a placeholder for the pronoun “I.”  Many others have postulated that the word “God” simply denotes a lack of scientific understanding.  This is a somewhat antiquated (although not in all religious communities) method of describing natural phenomenon or the like with an attribution to God.  Many conservative Christian ministers still employ this (and inevitably the media is willing to grant a platform) technique when they make statements like Hurricane Katrina was punishment by God on a sinful New Orleans, etc.  In a more positive attempt, many attribute social ideals as God. Also, others utilize a similar technique when postulating that God encompasses an all powerful quality (e.g. compassion, protector, or forgiveness).  Many times, this is simply a hope for a communal (as well as an individual) norm that offers a societal target to aim.

But, it also seems that people use God as a placeholder in common conversation to state their own opinions.  Regularly, many conservative Christians will ask “Does God want you to do X?”  I believe that this is simply a way of insinuating that approval has not been granted by the person positing the question.  Thus, what is really meant is “I’m not so sure about X.” This is a rhetorical technique employed when discussions can involve tension or when disapproval would be uncomfortable.  This method is also demonstrated when Christians interpret events as divine.  “X, Y, & Z happened, hence God is in favor or not.”  Again, what is really meant is some sort of reading of the tea leaves (and in this case the tea leaves are real events).  It amazes me that conservative Christians would state they do not believe in omens but this is exactly what this is.

There are probably numerous reasons for employing the God as placeholder technique.  First, as previously stated it projects one’s own personal opinions into a mode of discussion that otherwise might interject tension.  Second, it adds a transcendental import to the statement/question in consideration.  If one can convince the other that God is interested in the subject, then greater consideration might be induced into the conversation. Additionally, the transcendental import also works as a social pressure (although most are oblivious to the pressure).  Last, all this works as a mechanism, by which, one can inject their own concerns/emotions without admitting concern, disapproval, or even emotional investment. This last reasoning is interesting, especially within a southern context that, many times, chooses not to acknowledge disagreements or conflicts.

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