Should “God” Be Capitalized? March 30, 2009

Should “God” Be Capitalized?

Writer Ellis J. Biderson makes the argument that we need to fix our rules of capitalization when it comes to religion:

… why provide God with the same artifactual honor as Parcheesi, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Civil War, minor-league hockey teams, Santa Claus, and, for that matter, the word Flatulence when it begins a sentence? Not even evangelists are clear in their use of a holy capital: the way Jerry Falwell talked about “my God,” it was as if he was capitalizing the m, not the g.

(via Free Inquiry)

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  • cassiek

    I stopped capitalizing the “g” years ago.

  • I think it’s a bit petty to stop using the capitalisation, at least when referring to the fella in the Bible. Are you going to stop capitalising Darth Vader as well?

    If it’s that god we’re talking about then it’s his handle (or at least we use it as if it is) so may as well capitalise it. Maybe it’s just a nickname, although even in that case we still capitalise Chewie. The idea of capitalising ‘him’, ‘he who must be obeyed’, etc is definitely daft though, we can drop all that nonsense.

    Equal rights for all imaginary figures I say…

  • mikespeir

    I realize “god” is a description, but long ago “God” came to be used effectively as an name for the Judeo-Christian god. (That probably had its genesis in the Jewish aversion to actually uttering or writing YHWH and then the rather arrogant assertion that, “Our god is the real God,” but still….) Consequently, I’ll continue to capitalize it along with Zeus, Odin, and Nergal.

  • I try to write god, but honestly the uppercase form is so prevalent that I often unconsciously use it.

    It seems that “God” usually refers to the Abrahamic god, and “god” refers to any general deity. This implicitly privileges Judeo-Christian theism, so we should probably knock it off.

    I’d vote for bringing Yahweh back.

  • Vic

    If they refuse to call their god by his proper name, then I see no reason to capitalize the vague description they chose to use. If people started calling me “guy” should it be capitalized?

    Using a very general and vague term for Yahweh is a device to make the character more mysterious and harder to define, therefore harder to refute. But, if the definition is so vague it can’t be refuted, then do they know who they are worshiping?

  • I always write god as gOd. The same with jEsus or tHor or zEus or any non-deity. I’m just passive-aggressive that way.

  • Depends on grammatical context: if it’s being used as a proper name, then yes. If it’s just another noun, then no. At least we’re past the days when pronouns referring to God were capitalized. Even the quite devout have mostly given that up, along with “Thee” and “Thou”.

  • Do we capitalize Hera, Thor or Shiva? These gods are all imaginary beings that might collectively be “gods” with a little “g” but their proper names are all capitalized, as should be the name “God” when it it used as the proper name of the Judeo-Christian imaginary friend.

  • God should be god unless it starts a sentence. The christian god is Yahweh, and being a proper name gets a capital.

  • Erp

    Actually the ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ were quite legit pronouns in their day for use with your equals, your inferiors, and informally (e.g., a child would use ‘thou’ in addressing a parent and vice versa). In other words God was addressed as a close friend. Nowadays many Christians seem to think ‘thou’ is a special _formal_ pronoun for addressing God.

    As for god, I would capitalize when it is used as a proper name but not when used as a common noun. For example, “Out of the bush, God spoke to Moses”, “The god of Moses”, etc. I would not use Him, etc except when quoting someone who does.

  • The Tooth Fairy gets capitalized, so does God in my books.

  • Todd

    Why stop at mere ‘decapitalization’? Let’s start writing it as god.

  • Todd

    Dang it! Stoopid wordpress doesn’t do subscripts.

  • I capitalize it when it’s used in place of a name, the same way I would refer to my maternal parental figure. “I saw God walking down the street” or “I saw Mom walking down the street” vs. “I saw your god walking down the street” or “I saw your mom walking down the street.”
    It’s not out of respect for religion, just our of respect for grammar.

  • As long as God is referring to the Christian god as a proper name then I’ll use a capital G. If god is used as a descriptor as in “the god formerly known as Jealous” then I’ll use lowercase g. The same rules apply to any proper name and gods don’t have special rules in language.

  • Eh. Hard to work up a lot of passion on this one.

    I try to keep it lower-case, but as a reminder to me to try to keep my comments general. Christianity is not more or less wrong than any other religion — it’s exactly as wrong for exactly the same reasons. And since most of what I say when arguing religion can be applied across the board, why discriminate.

    If I am somehow distinguishing the Christian god from the others, then I’ll capitalize (or write “the Christian god”). I find that “Yahweh” is both harder to type and less understood.

  • Brooks

    Like others, I capitalize the g when it’s being used as a name since God is also one of Yahweh’s names, but if I’m just referring to God as a noun as in the “god of the bible”or something like that, I’ll use a small g. It doesn’t have anything to do with privileging the Christian god and everything to do with using proper grammar. It’s just like I wouldn’t spell Harry Potter’s name as harry potter just because he’s a fictional character because that’s his name. I agree we should not capitalize the name He or His unless maybe you’re quoting from the bible because that would definitely be given too much privilege to the Judea-Christian god unless you also referred to the goddess in Wicca as She, not to mention it just looks silly to do. Really, I just don’t make such a big deal about the spelling as most believers don’t make a big deal out of it.

  • Emily

    I do not capitalize god or gods. I do capitalize names of gods, simply because I do so for the Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Norse, Egyptian pantheons (and so on and so forth) and thus deem it appropriate to capitalize the names of Judeo-Christian gods as well.

  • Simon

    I agree with Brooks and other.
    Essentially, I apply the same rule than I do for the word: ‘Prince’, and capitalize it when referring to the person rather than the title…

  • Jon

    Capitalizing proper names of imaginary characters is standard form in English. You wouldn’t write “james t. kirk” just because Captain Kirk is fictional. I understand there’s more to it than that, but it’s awkward and self-important to break the convention of the language just to make a point.

    So I capitalize it when it is unavoidable, but I try to avoid it when possible. For instance, I will write “christians claim their god exists” instead of “christians claim God exists.”

    However, I try not to capitalize “christians.” 🙂 I think it’s presumptuous of them to claim capitalization status – kind of like realtors insisting they should be called Realtors, as if it’s a title of nobility and not just a description.

  • Brooks

    I never thought of it as being presumptuous to capitalize Christians. I always thought of it as being just another title you capitalize, like how people capitalize Americans and Canadians. You wouldn’t spell that as americans and canadians. Though sometimes I do spell Christians as xtians when I’m referring to the crazy fundie types.

  • When using God as the name of the Christian deity, it should be capitalized, when using god as the noun for a supernatural being, it should not be capitalized. Just my convention. That’s in English. In German, all nouns are capitalized. So it is just a grammatical convention.

    This has changed over time. For example, pronouns when referring to the Christian god used to be capitalized. They are not any more. But we still capitalize names, even generic ones. If I were to say, “I’ll ask Mom if she can come,” I capitalize Mom because it’s used as a name. If I say, “I’ll ask my mom if she can come,” I don’t capitalize because mom here is used as a noun that is a synonym for mother.

  • As I was never a christian or any other kind of believer, I can’t call their god “God” as it’s not a name, it’s a categorical label. I most often use the more precise epithet of “christian god(s)” (the three-in-one thing makes no sense to me) to distinguish it from other gods.

    Neither do I capitalise ideologies (e.g. “christian”, “islamic”) or their respective collective nouns on the basis that I don’t capitalise other ideologies or collective modalities (e.g. capitalism, blondes, drug addicts).

    I’ll capitalise proper names of gods (e.g. Yahweh, Odin, Poseidon, Ahura Mazda) as per the normal rules of modern English.

    Quotes, however, I will quote verbatim, although a “sic” or two usually helps get rid of any ambiguity.

  • sc0tt


    Nah, that sucks.

    I remember my teacher in (3rd?) grade discussing this in something we read – she asked “Why is ‘gods’ not capitalized in that sentence?” and one kid said “Because it’s not the ‘real’ God.” and she said he was right.

    Put me in the “when used as a proper name” bin. Writerdd’s “mom/Mom” analogy is a good one.

  • Is it me, but “God” being the name of the christian god is a little strange. It’s like calling a new model of car, “Car”. The christian’s god is called Yahweh, and it’s neither hard to spell nor pronounce, and should be used. Allowing christians to call their god “God” gives their god a special name among gods which it does not deserve. I say decapitalize it. God is a description, not a proper name.

  • I capitalize it when I’m using it as a proper name. If I’m referring to a god in general, I don’t capitalize it.

    ie… “God lied to Adam.” vs “Your god is cruel.”

    I use the same rules I’d use when using the word “mother” or “father” or “grandpa,” basically.

    I only capitalize the word “bible” if I’m referring to a specific version by title. The “King James Bible” versus “the bible on my shelf.”

  • I have always capitalized the ‘g’ to distinguish the general term god from the more specific Christian God.

    A friend of mine (posts under “Atheist Under Ur Bed” in my blog) has for some time now been capitalizing not the ‘g’ but the ‘o’ in the word gOd to emphasize the nothingness in the center of the concept.

  • TXatheist

    god is an adjective and nothing more.

  • Actually the ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ were quite legit pronouns in their day for use with your equals, your inferiors, and informally…

    Yes, of course (compare to cognates ‘tu’ (French) and ‘du’ (German), which are also familiar forms, as opposed to ‘vous’/’Sie’). But they are archaic in modern English, along with the associated verb endings, and survive in religio-speak largely because of nostalgiac affection for the King James Bible. It “sounds repectful” largely because it is just *different* from normal speech, ie. for arbitrary reasons rooted in culture.

    Personally, I never went in for that stuff much, back in my religious days.

  • Epistaxis

    Yes, because it’s a specific god, but we should stop referring to Him/Her/It and say lowercase “gods” instead.

  • Dave Huntsman

    This has been a surprisingly good discussion.

    The arrogance of one religion – the judean/christian god – trying to hijack the “God” as meaning only theirs, is improper. Capitalize proper, specific names; ie, Zeus, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Thor. They are all ‘gods’. Don’t privilege one of them over all the thousands of others.

    I don’t think we should always capitalize christian, jewish, muslim, hindu, etc. unless we (all of us humans) all agree to capitalize atheist, and agnostic, and anti-theist. They all go together: either capitalize all, or don’t capitalize all.

  • mikespeir

    god is an adjective and nothing more

    Then what word do I use when I need a noun referring to deity?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The God of the Bible has many names. Yahweh, for instance. And Elohim (although curiously, that is a plural form). Here’s another name from Exodus chapter 34:

    [14] For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

    There you have it, you can refer to Him as Jealous instead of God if you prefer.

  • Turrboenvy

    I agree with “when used as a name,” like the word mom.

    I do, however, take lengths not to use it in that sense. I often refer to the Judeo-Christian god, your god, their god, etc. I don’t call other people’s moms “Mom.”

  • matt

    I stopped capitalizing it usually, partly in a “which god of many many many gods are you referring to?” faux innocent manner. Kind of dickish, I know.

    Although I’ve more recently just started saying the Abrahamic god, which I picked up from a christian-ish prof of mine.

  • I use “god” to refer to some unspecified object which has all the necessary god-like properties. I use “God” to refer to the one canonical god which supposedly most people believe in. If I need to distinguish between the gods of different people, it gets decapitalized again.

    I think decapitalizing a word is a very strange way to express one’s distaste for the concept it represents.

  • A friend of mine (posts under “Atheist Under Ur Bed” in my blog) has for some time now been capitalizing not the ‘g’ but the ‘o’ in the word gOd to emphasize the nothingness in the center of the concept.

    I like that! 🙂 g0d — a subversive typo!

  • The conventions of English suggest that “God” refers to a deity by name, while “god” is a noun referring to any old god. As for He, His and Him, I do capitalize these when they refer to “God” – but only for satirical effect 😉

  • Indigo

    Capitalize proper, specific names; ie, Zeus, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Thor. They are all ‘gods’.
    “Allah” is Arabic for “God” and used in the exact same way. There is no distinction between the Judeo-Christian and the Muslim god in Arabic.

  • Kristin Ward

    “God” should be capitalized in certain instances. It’s just proper grammar. If you’re referring to the thing “god,” it’s lower-case. If you’re referring to the proper noun, it’s “God.” Some people think there is one thing out there called God, and it should be capitalized. Just because you don’t believe it’s real doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be upper-case. I know Santa Claus isn’t real, but that’s his name, and it gets capitalized.

  • * In the Battlestar Galactica series Virtual Baltar says the last line of the series as he walks down a street of modern day New York City with Virtual Six. Baltar questions what God wants to be really called:

    Virtual Baltar (moving in closer to V-Six, whispers): “You know it doesn’t like that name!”
    Virtual Six (Doesn’t answer vocally but her expression says “C’mon! you know better than that!”): ………..
    Virtual Baltar (Seeing her reaction): “Silly Me…..silly, silly me”.

  • zoo

    It depends. “God” is used (a bit presumptuously. . .) as the name of a god, as are (in English) Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Ra, Bastet, Set, Staff God, Smiling God, etc. Capitalizing pronouns referring to God though is too much, unless we’re going to start capitalizing pronouns for all gods (not that I’d advocate that. . .).

  • re Dave Huntsman:

    Probably will catch some flak for saying this, but I don’t think that Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu fit in the same category as atheist, agnostic, and antitheist. So, it’s not that we capitalize them all (or don’t capitalize any) because they fit in the same category. Really, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu are proper adjectives because they derive from proper sources, while atheism, theism, agnosticism, antitheism are not.

    It would be like saying you’re Rational or Skeptical. Rational and skeptical aren’t proper adjectives, so you’d just be rational and skeptical.

  • It’s a simple rule of grammar. What does this have to do with the fact that you are going to stand before Him on Judgment Day?

  • mikespeir

    Than you, James. Your words have cut us all to the heart and spared us an eternity of unquenchable fire. God (capital G) is smiling on you today.

  • Siamang

    Dude, I saw Judgement Day. That movie sucked!

  • I just use Yahweh. Using God seems to say that he’s the only god, which he isn’t.

  • I’ve been asking this for years 🙂

  • Cafeeine

    […]I don’t think that Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu fit in the same category as atheist, agnostic, and antitheist. […] Really, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu are proper adjectives because they derive from proper sources, while atheism, theism, agnosticism, antitheism are not.

    Moreover I would venture to say that all of the above (as well as the Mormons and the Scientologists etc.) describe the members of organized groups.

    If I ever become a member of the Most Secular Internet Order of Atheists (est. never), when referring to my status as such, I would be an Atheist.

    In that vein, “I either only accept Jesus and that makes me a non-denominational christian believer, or I belong in XYZ church which makes me a Christian Protestant/Catholic etc.” is a good example.

    “God” requires the same kind of treatment. When referring to the particular name, you capitalize it. Otherwise you don’t. When I want to drive home the point that I am not discussing my interlocutor’s specific god, I go with indirect pronouns and plurals (“A god/gods can do” as opposed to “God can do”)

  • Jesi

    I do it out of respect because apparently it’s important to people. And we capitalize names, and they think he’s real so yeah. But f it from now on I’m going for gOd.

  • Wendy

    I NEVER capitalize the “g”. And I have the habit of trying to make the rest of my writing as correct as possible, so it’s very clear that I mean what I’m doing when I write “god” instead of “God”. I don’t capitalize the “b” in “bible”, either. For some reason though, I do still capitalize Koran or Qur’an and Allah… They feel more like proper nouns to me….. I should make an effort to stop doing that, I think.

  • Hypatia

    Grammatically speaking “god” used as a name of a god should be capitalized, I agree; but reading through the posts I am beginning to have a problem with how it came to be capitalized this way. Why should the Judeo-Christian god use a perfectly good word as his name? It goes along with the mindset that their god is the only god. This has created a sub-conscious understanding that monotheism is the only real or true way to think about deities. It is the attitude “ours is the top dog” (no pun intended;-); therefore, we get to use everyone’s perfectly good generic term that applies to the deities who still use their own names as if it ONLY means OUR god. This has embedded thought patterns in our language that I personally find annoying and would like to deconstruct. As a kind of “political” action then I think I am going to go along with using the real name, never saying “God” for the Judeo-Christian god, and instead taking the extra time to say the “Judeo-Christian” god or the god of the Christians, or something to that effect, if not just using the name “Yahweh.” That way I can put these haughty usurpers back into their place and begin to remove such subtle, embedded thought-forms that prevent and preclude other viewpoints on such subjects as myth, religion, magic, spirituality, you have it. I am typically very strict regarding grammar, but the language has been changed to reflect a thought-form that has become tyrannical.

  • E.S.

    Wow, someone hates religion…
    Or maybe you only like your religion, Atheism, *ahem*, I mean atheism. You have faith in an idea that no God exists.
    And as for “fixing our rules for capitalization”, I guess names shouldn’t be capitalized anymore.
    So, johnny when to paris and saw a painting of god’s son jesus.

  • Mike

    “God” is a proper name and refers specifically to the Abrahamic god; there are other monotheistic religions, and their religions have other proper names. Capitalizing the word is not a mark of respect or a recognition that the entity exists, it’s just a simple grammatical convention; after all, we also capitalize both Hitler and Santa Claus. Personally, I think the concept of God has caused a lot more harm to humanity than any other god.

  • Max B

    It is a name, so it should be capitalized. I don’t care whether you’re mad at religion for some stupid reason, maybe you were molested by your dad when you were growing up, but either way, you are supposed to capitalize the G.

  • jd

    *ahem*,  Atheism isn’t a religion. It shouldn’t be capitalized.

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