Seminarians of the United Church of Christ
Fri, Jul. 16th, 2004, 04:30 pm
Let's see. There still aren't many members here yet, so let me post a topic!
It seems like liberal Christians in particular are very fond of using the name "Yahweh." Certainly it was the rage when I was in seminary, and I find very many books that use it. (I read one book recently that refused to; I think it was Bruggeman.)
I don't understand why people insist on using the Name. It is supposed to be sacred. The Bible forbids people from using it, and the Name is translated LORD God in every translation. Many Jews don't even use the word "God." They say "G-d."
So why would liberal Christians be so big on saying Yahweh? Especially since Yahweh is no more accurate than the medieval Jehovah. YHWH would be more accurate, but I still don't see the benefit of using it. We know that names are a way of having power over something, so the modern fad of using the Name looks to me like an attempt to gain power over God.
The Harry Potter books give an excellent illustration of this. Everyone calls the bad guy "He Who Must Not Be Named." But only certain of the good guys: Dumbledore, Lupin, Harry himself, insist on using Voldemort's real name because they believe they shouldn't ascribe so much fear and power to him. In essence, the wizarding community has made a false idol out of Voldemort, and for Dumbledore et al, it becomes an important act of "unmasking the power" for them to use Voldemort's name.
Going back to Christianity, then -- what is behind the insistence in using "Yahweh"? It seems to me the height of arrogance, maybe even idolatry -- idolizing our own power by insisting on using the Name. Who do we think we are to use God's name? God isn't a false idol. God is real, therefore we should show respect by not using the Name.
(You see how I have such an incredibly conservative streak in me?) I'm interested to know what others think. Do any of you choose to use the Name, and if so, why? I've never seen anyone give a theological defense for using the Name. If anything, that disturbs me even more. I mean, if you're going to use the Name, then I think you should have a reason for doing so. Otherwise, you really are taking the Lord's name in vain.
Fri, Jul. 16th, 2004 03:01 pm (UTC)
It depends on the context and what is being discussed. I would use Yahweh if it seems like it would make more sense in the conversation. For example, when you are talking about Yahweh as the Hebrew national deity. Otherwise. I have no problem use the term God. or G-d for that matter. It's all just vocabulary - different ways of referencing the Divine.
Fri, Jul. 16th, 2004 03:25 pm (UTC)
So other than in a scholarly context -- that is, from a faith/worship perspective -- does that mean you would prefer to use "God" rather than "Yahweh?" Or does it not matter much to you one way or the other?
Fri, Jul. 16th, 2004 03:39 pm (UTC)
Personally, it does not matter that much to me. But, our culture does not really relate to the name Yahweh that much, so it would seem to me that if you are trying to communicate with people on a prectical level that you would want to use langauge that they are familar with and relate to. In that case, I would say just use the word God.
Sat, Jul. 17th, 2004 09:56 am (UTC)
My boyfriend, Brian, is Jewish, and he says that it is higly offensive to say the name YHWH when speaking with a Jewish person (though quite a few Eden faculty use it with great abandon in their classes); an acceptable (in fact, the usual substitute) in Jewish culture is to say Adonai instead, which out of respect to Brian and all other Jews, I now do.
I find it most fascinating that the faculty member who uses it most at Eden is John Bracke - the protege of Walter Brueggeman.
Personally? God is Adonai is YHWH - or, a rose is a rose is a rose. This summer I'm going through huge transformations in how I perceive God, and am in many ways on a course that is not at all charted by orthodoxy in any form. I believe that divinity resides within each and all - that our experiences on earth are proof of God wanting to earth in human form. When I say 'divinity within,' I am not saying that one person is God, but that we all have little sparks of God within us, and in acknowledging that everyone has a bit of God in themself, one takes responsibility for one's own free will.
I'm having a hard time, therefore, with all of the rules, with the Bible being The Definitive and Only Book of Christianity. Perhaps it is time for people to really go within, to begin again to trust intuition - because for too long we have looked to books to define who we are and why we are here. I've noticed that for a long time I would rather trust what someone else says than myself. And indeed, one of the reasons why we are here on earth in community is to work out these becomings with each other - but I think that in giving a book or person power over oneself is to attempt to absolve onself of personal responsibility. The Bible, the pastor - both of these things are accepted authorities - but they let people off the hook when it comes to making real decisions - because "the Bible tells me the right way to live and so does pastor." So what happened to free will?
Wow, the question of naming God has really unleashed some thoughts. :-) I'm really in a place right now of "why are we on earth?" and "appearances can go hang. I'm going in for realities!" (The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery - page # unremembered) - I'm getting to a point in life where I don't want to hide what I'm really thinking and feeling about things any longer. It's a challenge for me to deal with some of these questions as a student in a Christian seminary, but well worth the effort, it seems.
So what have you learned about questions like these as an ordained minister?
Mon, Jul. 19th, 2004 11:32 am (UTC)
Since my church is very liberal/progressive, we wrestle with those questions all the time. But we decided from the beginning (this is a new church) that we would be Christian. So we wrestle with what that means.
For me personally (and I think for my church) we see Christianity as an ongoing community through time and space. Sounds new-agey, don't it? :P But I mean to say that people for two thousand years have been responding to God's presence in and through Jesus. They have understood that presence in many, many different ways. Yet certain overarching themes emerge. For me, the bible is the record of that community's relationship with God over the centuries (and of course back even further to the origins of Judaism.) It's not like God stopped speaking after Revelation. But the canon did close. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know, but it's what we have. That book has shaped the Christian story for the last 1700 years -- and that is why I'm not in favor of reopening the canon. Because whatever books you would add have *not* shaped and been shaped by the community for 1700 years. I am, however, all in favor of reading non-canonical books. But as a community we just don't have the same relationship with them.
And I do see it as a relationship, not a situation of authority. Bear in mind that the concept of the Bible as the inerrant word of God is only abut 100 years old. In Augustine's day, the literal meaning of the Bible was seen as the most shallow meaning.
So the Bible for me tells the story of a community, and we continue to live that story today, because the community continues to exist. We go back to that story over and over again not because it's the only one that's true, but because it is *our* story in a way that others are not.
That's why Spong goes too far for me when he wants to just toss out things that don't make sense from a modern scientific viewpoint. Because the modern scientific viewpoint is only one way of understanding. Who knows how future generations will see things? So we shouldn't throw out the Virgin birth -- not because it's literally true, but because it's part of our story. It has given us a lot of meaning, some of it good and some bad. But if we throw it out now, future generations will no longer have that story. I say we keep it and wrestle with it, and individuals can reject it if they feel the need to. But the tradition should not reject it, because it's part of our heritage.
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 11:16 am (UTC)
I'm coming to this late, but I'm new to the UCC, and even newer to this community, where I hoped to find some good theological discussion. Forgive me pouncing on an old note. :-)
First off (and least important), I'd be surprised to see Brueggemann saying anything against using the name Yahweh—he uses it all over the place in his The Prophetic Imagination
Anyhow, I think it's used for exactly the reasons Brueggemann talks about with the tenth-century Israelites. Among American Christians, the God of the orthodox is imprisoned in the culture. President Bush claims the kind of access to God Solomon did, which Brueggemann associates with the royal consciousness. God cannot speak, because he must legitimate the king (the President) at all times, must never question the status quo. So when liberals use the name Yahweh for God, I think it's to assert a free God, the one Brueggemann associates with the Mosaic tradition.
As for blasphemy, we're all nominalists now, so names don't have power over things. It's not about our own power (in fact, liberal Christians seem to be better able to understand our complete bondage to sin than many conservatives these days), it's just about a name that's recognizable but associated entirely with the God of Exodus rather than the God of Kings.
Personally, I'm fond of Ha-Shem, which of course just means "The Name". Largely because it has the same connotations for me.
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 11:24 am (UTC)
Actually, one clarification--I don't mean to be stridently anti-GOP when I speak of President Bush's claims about access to God. This isn't about Republicans specifically. The entire political establishment claims that kind of access to God, in prayer breakfasts, stump speeches, etc. So the idea is to assert a God who is free of political control, not just a God who is free of control by the current occupant of the White House. :-)
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 04:43 pm (UTC)
I had a recent conversation on this subject with someone else recently, prompted by inaugural prayers. The problem is that to claim politicians shouldn't invoke God at all amounts to suppression of the free expression of religion. There's a great, blurred line between establishment of religion and free expression of religion. While the way politicians use God annoys me, nevertheless I can't quite see telling them that they can't talk about God at all. That would be like telling ministers they can't talk about politics, and neither situation is what "separation of church and state" is about. The point, it seems to me, is that neither controls
the other, but not that they don't ever mix.
I think civil religion is pretty much inevitable, and it is not the same thing as Congress establishing a religion. But I wasn't able to convince my friend of this!
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 08:58 pm (UTC)
I think Brueggemann is not so much saying politicians shouldn't invoke God as that when they do, they invoke a God who cannot actually say anything new or even old and cutting. The God talked about at the prayer breakfasts and the inaugural does not say anything about unreasonable interest rates charged to the poorest Americans or the ways our corporate culture makes us view our brothers and sisters as capital rather than other individuals.
I'm not sure what I think of the solutions he advances, but I feel like the descriptive parts of The Prophetic Imagination
are pretty spot on. My real problem with the theology is he suggests that consciously religious prophets are the only sources of hope in a society like ours. That was true with men like Martin Luthern King, Jr., a generation ago, but I think the gay rights movement and other more-or-less secular movements are proving him wrong. Those movements are proving willing and able to speak truth to power even without a consciously religious outlook.
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
Oh no, old debate is great! (Ooh, that rhymed.)
And you're probably right about it not being Brueggeman, but I can never remember where I read these things. Maybe it was Thomas Cahill in The Gift of the Jews
Anyway, for me the term "God" is little more than a place-holder. I don't see it as having a strong power of association that "Yahweh" somehow breaks. "God" is just a generic term, whereas "Yahweh" is, so to speak, God's first name. I don't see how such a generic term as "God" can be said to be more associated with oppressors. If people are that concerned about it, I think the issue might be better addressed by using adjectives or epithets, i.e., "God of the outcasts," "Liberating God," etc. I like your suggestion of Ha-Shem, too. But "Yahweh"? Has no subconscious connection to our tradition. It sounds at best academic, and at worst blasphemous. To me, at any rate.As for blasphemy, we're all nominalists now, so names don't have power over things.
I'm not so sure about that. But I would agree that words are cheap these days. Maybe that's all the more reason why I don't want us throwing the name "Yahweh" around as if it's worth two cents. :P
(And yes, it annoys me that U2 has a new song called "Yahweh." Come on, guys!)
Thanks for the discussion! So how did you come to the UCC, if you don't mind my asking?
Fri, Jan. 28th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the discussion! So how did you come to the UCC, if you don't mind my asking?
I grew up Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and converted to the ELCA during college when I started leaving behind a lot of my old beliefs (I used to be against women's ordination, anti-GLBT issues, had a weird kind of half-inerrancy that Lutheran kids pick up).
Anyhow, I went through a couple of really tough years in an ELCA parish that wasn't much closer to the center than the one I'd grown up in, even considered the ministry until it became clear I was too liberal for my congregation to endorse me, so when I came back home with my wife (who's Pagan), what I really wanted was to find a progressive church where I didn't feel like an outcast. A friend pointed me in the direction of the UCC church nearby, which is the only ONA church in our conference, and the rest was history. ;-)
The ads certainly didn't hurt. My whole group of religious seeker, spiritual exile friends was really, really heartened to see a major denomination evangelizing in such a God-pleasing way!
I've added you to my friends--you ought to be able to read my post about visiting the church I'm joining:http://www.livejournal.com/users/logodaedaly/31377.html