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Why A Monk Doesn’t Like To Use The Word ‘God’

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When you hear the word “God,” what do you imagine? A man or woman in a pristine white robe? A mysterious human-like figure? A completely non-physical presence? Different people have different visions of the divine, but respected religious scholar Thomas Moore says that there’s one important understanding he’s come to in his 13 years as a monk and his decades of theological study: God is unknowable.

As he explains in a conversation with Oprah on “SuperSoul Sunday,” this unknowable force is also infinite, existing everywhere. It’s a concept that Moore explores more in part in his book, A Religion of One’s Own, where he writes, “God is in the space between sentences.” In his teachings, Moore challenges everyone to let go of the God they think they know — and part of that is re-examining the adequacy of the word “God” in the first place.

For himself, Moore doesn’t even like to use the word “God,” as he believes it anthropomorphizes an all-knowing power and, therefore, diminishes the real sense of the divine.

“When I hear the word ‘God,’ it’s very limited. It’s not this infinite, mysterious, unknowable factor,” he explains.

That’s not to say Moore envisions a world that doesn’t use the word — even he calls upon God in certain moments of urgency. “My daughter was hurt once and I just prayed to God without any thought. My theology went out the window,” he says. “I will use the name ‘God’ when I have that urge to pray, certainly.”

Beyond that type of prayer, Moore is very conscious of using the word “God,” especially in spiritual discussions and in his best-selling books, because he doesn’t want to invoke his audience’s preconceived notions.

“I try to evoke that unknowable and the infinite in my writing,” he says. “If I kept using the word God, I don’t think I’d be able to do it.”