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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, 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: