Grammar Is Not Dead

Why God deserves as much respect as an overweight cat.

Summer, 2012 / No. 28

Taddle Creek recently had the pleasure of co-sponsoring, along with Broken Pencil and City Lights, an evening of readings organized around the concept of God. The audience members obviously were not the God-fearing type themselves, as everyone present opted to burn in hell rather than subscribe to either magazine. People are entitled to their beliefs, Taddle Creek supposes.

But some good came out of the event, as it reminded Taddle Creek of an editorial style topic that has arisen more than once throughout the magazine’s history—the capitalization of “God” when used to make reference to a single supreme being. Taddle Creek has had a run-in or two over the years with authors who, because they believe God does not exist, feel he, therefore, should not have an upper-cased name like regular people. This argument gained a little momentum in 2007, when the late Christopher Hitchens published his New York Times bestseller, God Is Not Great. While Mr. Hitchens’s book added much to the discussion that, to quote the publication’s subtitle, “religion poisons everything,” Taddle Creek feels it also did a disservice to the disbelievers.

Hitchens, like the above-mentioned authors, insisted that “God” be lower-cased throughout his book, even when referencing a single (albeit fictional) individual. (The title of Hitchens’s book officially is spelled with a lower-case “G” at the beginning, which, frankly, makes Taddle Creek want to flood the earth to clean away the sacrilege of bad grammar—but that’s a subject for another time.) This argument is juvenile and grasping, and in no way furthers the case being made. It is, in fact, completely unrelated to the task at hand. Just because Christians lazily gave their god the same name as the general term for omnipotent deities doesn’t make their god any less valid than any other god in the eyes of good grammar.

Case in point: Taddle Creek does not believe Garfield exists. A thirty-three-year-old feline born to an unwed mother who hates to see Sunday end, loves a good dinner, and possibly can communicate with humans through some form of telepathy? Please. (If you do believe Garfield exists, humour Taddle Creek for just a moment.) Should the world’s most widely syndicated cat’s name be spelled “garfield” simply because he doesn’t exist? Of course not. Because, though imaginary, many real-world rules still apply to most fiction, including the capitalization of people’s names, even when those people are made up. There are many fictional characters in this issue of Taddle Creek. All of their names are capitalized. Open any novel—you’ll see more of the same. So if someone’s specific god is fictional, even if his name is God, would that name still not be capitalized? (Taddle Creek will capitulate that capitalizing “His” and “He” in reference to the Christian God is taking things a bit too far.) There are so many stronger, easier arguments for those who want to dispel myth. To resort to name-lower-casing makes those putting forth the argument seem ignorant, and detracts from their message.

Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, George Burns—pick a false god, any false god: their names are still capitalized.