What’s in a word?

What’s in a word? In English, and perhaps in every other language capable of expression in writing, the use of a particular word, alone by itself or in combination with other words, is supposed to carry a certain meaning or convey some message. For instance, if someone were to say or write: “I believe there is a God,” we can ask this person to clarify as to what is meant by the term ‘God.’ Assuming this person is not incapable of understanding what he/she is talking, we can expect a coherent response or clarification that most people, if not all, can easily understand.

Recently I queried someone who posted such a statement for his personal profile for Facebook; I asked him for his definition of ‘God.’ And his response: “As for my Facebook status, “there is a God” is meant to reflect my very general, simplistic and humble attitude to the presence of forces larger than ourselves that I know I will never be able to fully comprehend. So I am, frankly, not really interested in the philosophical issue of my own or anyone else’s definitions of God.”

What, exactly, was this person trying to convey? Let’s assume ‘God’ as implied is the equivalent of ‘forces larger than ourselves that I know I will never be able to fully comprehend.’  But can this expression be properly taken as a definition?  From my understanding of the term ‘God’, which is synonymous with that of most people, or of all God-believers/worshippers, I thought the explanation was unsatisfactory; so I reverted to him thus: “The point concerning ‘God’, I would like to say that this term is commonly understood to relate to some supernatural entity perceived to be not of nature but beyond nature.”

And his response: “As for my Facebook status, I believe my use of the term God conforms with existing conventions of language. Whether it conforms with your philosophical or theological understanding of the term, as I said, I don’t really care since most of my Facebook visitors are familiar with the context of Facebook and know better than to take it out of that context.”

I cannot help concurring with the person who declared, with some agitation, that using the term ‘God’ in this way would be rendering the term worse than useless, as it can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding between speaker and listener, as I have had in my dialogue with the person mentioned above.

And as I have said earlier in a thread in Facebook, you can’t hold a serious discussion with a God-believer, whatever ‘God is’ to this other person. Some believers of ‘God’ think we are psychic – that we can read their mind, that we know precisely what they mean when they say “I believe there is a God.”

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