So I was reading this post by Galen Broaddus concerning the grammar of capitalizing the word “god” and “bible,” and predictably it spawned a pretty spirited set of comments. Mr. Broaddus’s point was that capitalizing these words at times is proper, when the words are used as proper nouns. Normally, such points of grammar and style aren’t terribly controversial – except when talking about these two particular words. Invariably, any conversation which might point out current grammar rules ends up getting dragged into the realm of whether these words ought to be capitalized at all.
In my opinion, that misses an even better point.
Out of all the ways to challenge Christian privilege, is not hitting a shift key or not writing a big “g” or “b” really worth all this mess? Do people who think that every time they write “god” or “bible” that they’re actually forcing Christians to consider their stance on divine entities? Or is the principle of the matter getting inflated, an important thing only in each person’s mind?
Case in point, I habitually capitalize the word “Bible” on this blog. It’s not because I wish to fawn over people and curry favor with them by hitting one of two keys on my keyboard. Rather, it’s an inside joke that only I get, because one is also supposed to capitalize titles of fiction. The joke is secret and forgettable because I don’t also put “Bible” in quotation marks, underline it, or put it in italics. Well, that and it’s only funny to people who are easily entertained (like I am).
Some good reasons why god and bible shouldn’t be capitalized.
Capitalizing these words can lead to some confusing statements. One could write, “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in God” and be completely correct. Similarly, “My Bible will save my soul, but your Bible will consign everyone to Hell.” These statements are nonsense, despite being grammatically fine. They’re fine because one is referring to proper nouns, despite those proper nouns being fungible (a very fancy way of saying non-distinct and interchangeable).
Not capitalizing these words also means that writers are at least recognizing that one can use them in different ways. It opens up the English language into thinking about these terms in new and interesting ways. One good example is referring to a highly praised text as a bible, highlighting the notion that people read it and believe it without even understanding it. A lot of complexity can be packed into new word use, and I think it can provide great critical value.
But there are still reasons why they should get capitalized.
One example is that some people still use these words as proper nouns, and so that’s how they can express themselves. Despite not everyone agreeing on the actual idea, it accurately conveys what they mean. This actually does have a value in conversation, because it’s more precise.
Moreover, capitalization doesn’t change the thoughts behind some uses. Even for people who refuse to capitalize “god” unless it’s at the start of a sentence or in a title, one is challenging the same concept as shift key hitting Christians. At best, not capitalizing these words might just be seen as petulant. That’s not always a good thing, especially when it might cost someone the ability to be persuasive.
As always, the right answer lies in how people want to express themselves.
Grammar itself is a sort of compact English writers have with each other. Technically these rules are not binding or enforceable. We only give them force because otherwise Wede bee writeing Things lyke Wee were in Olde Englande. Seriously, read anything from the 16th or 17th centuries in their original form, and be amazed that people get yelled at for writing “ur” and “b4.”
The point is that hidden meanings behind a capital letter are often going to remain hidden or misunderstood. Not everyone is going to see it as a protest of Christian privilege. Others aren’t going to see people respecting their deity by hitting a shift key. Word choice matters more than arguing about capitalizing words, because a skilled person can still criticize Christians while capitalizing their two favorite things.