Alyssa Quinn

March 22, 2018

Dictionary of God

Perhaps our role on this planet is not to worship God—but to create Him.
                                                                                                     —Arthur C. Clarke
[an-thruh-puhmawr-fahyz] n.

  1. To endow something nonhuman with human qualities.
  2. Christians have an anthropomorphized conception of God; as a girl, my church leaders taught me I was made in His image (but I knew this wasn’t quite true—God was radiant and bearded and male).

[bee-ing] n.

  1. Existence.
  2. In Classical Greece, the Great Chain of Being was a hierarchy of existence, with God at the top, dirt at the bottom, and everything else (angels, stars, kings, peasants, sparrows, shrubs, gemstones) somewhere in between. Penalties existed for disrupting the chain, for moving outside your sphere.

[klok-mey-ker] n.

  1. Someone who makes or repairs clocks.
  2. A theory of God, also called the Watchmaker Theory; Deists believe that the design of the universe implies a designer, but that it now operates independent of divine intervention, like a great machine whose cogs spin endlessly, thoughtlessly.

[des-pos-uh-nee] n.

  1. The blood relatives of Christ, coming from the Greek word for “of or belonging to the master or lord.” Growing up in the Mormon church, I learned that God was my father, Christ my big brother. Sometimes I called him that, kneeling on my bedspread, telling him about my day—an eldest child grateful for someone to look up to.

[ih-tur-ni-tee] n.

  1. Time without beginning or end.
  2. The state into which a soul passes after death; eternal life. I never feared death as a child. I learned I would never end, my existence would stretch on, interminable.
  3. The opposite of oblivion. (When I stopped believing, this one was the hardest.)

Flying Spaghetti Monster
[flahy-ing spuhget-ee mon-ster] n.

  1. A divine being made of spaghetti and meatballs, first described by Bobby Henderson in 2005 as a satirical critique of creationism.
  2. The central deity of the Pastafarian religion.
  3. The creature depicted on the T-shirt I bought in high school as a passive-aggressive attack on theism; also in an attempt to catch the attention of the cute atheist boy in my English class.

[god-is] n.

  1. A female deity.
  2. In the LDS religion, the closest thing to a goddess is a heavenly mother. She was a nebulous construct for me as a child—faceless. Too sacred to speak of, they said. We didn’t pray to her.

[henuh-thee-iz-uh m] n.

  1. The worship of a single god, while still believing in the existence or possible existence of others.
  2. A precursor to Western monotheism, which swallowed it up. No room for other gods, for the possibility of a different truth.

[ih-myoo-tuh-buh l] adj.

  1. Unchangeable.
  2. A characteristic of the Christian God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; he does not waver. He cannot fit into the curl of a question mark.

[jahy-niz-uh m] n.

  1. An Indian religion promoting asceticism, pacifism, and self-discipline; derived from the Sanskrit word jina, meaning conqueror, as in conqueror of desire. Jains celebrate open-mindedness, and preface all claims with the word syad, meaning maybe, or perhaps. Perhaps—so terrifying, so brave (see Immutable).
  2. A philosophy rejecting the idea of a creator deity and recognizing instead the godliness of every soul (see Karma).

[kahr-muh] n.

  1. In Jainism, constraints placed on the soul that trap individuals in a cycle of rebirth. After liberation from these karmas—reaching moksha or nirvana—one becomes a god.
  2. Fate, or destiny.

[loh-gos] n.

  1. The divine word, as embodied by Jesus Christ.
  2. A rhetorical device meaning “appeal to logic.” In my high school English class, my teacher told us logos was the cornerstone of all good arguments, and to beware of pathos—appeal to emotion. As if feeling and knowing could not fill the same space.

[monuh-thee-iz-uh m] n.

  1. The belief in only one God. Atheists, it’s been said, simply believe in one fewer god than monotheists.

[nee-chuh] n.

  1. German philosopher (1844-1900) famous for claiming that “God is dead.”
  2. Central figure in the philosophy of nihilism. After I stopped believing, I Googled “the meaning of life” over and over.
  3. Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown in 1899 and died shortly thereafter.

[oh-staruh] n.

  1. Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, dawn, and fertility.
  2. A Pagan holiday celebrating the vernal equinox; precursor to Christian Easter. Pagans worship spring, the time when life cracks out of death’s hard shell, when the circling of the earth rocks its godless child into peace. Its sweet cycle is all the afterlife I need. (Or that’s what I tell myself in the grocery store checkout, a justification for buying those Cadbury Crème Eggs I love so much.)

[pahy-rol-uh-tree] n.

  1. The worship of fire; at our church’s annual girls’ camp, I always insisted on a campfire. We wrapped around its blaze, lifted hands to flame. The other girls shared testimony—they sounded so certain, so firm (see Jainism). I stayed silent and leaned deeper into the sweet heat.

Quantum Physics
[kwon-tuh m fiz-iks] n.

  1. The study of atoms and subatomic particles, which frequently contradicts classical mechanics; I sometimes watch strings of YouTube videos with my mouth wide open as I hear about the mind-bending dance of photons, the impossible popping of electrons.
  2. According to Einstein, “spooky action at a distance.” He also claimed quantum theory, with its reliance on probability, must be incomplete, because “God does not play dice.”
  3. The theory that the observer affects the observed—we are all gods, creating our universe as we live it. Perhaps.


  1. A system of belief developed in 1930s Jamaica, well known for its spiritual use of cannabis. My brother latched onto this religion for a while after leaving Mormonism; he claimed it was about transcendence, but I think it was just about the weed, the way it buzzed his neurons.

Summum Bonum
[suhmuh m boh-nuh m] n.

  1. Latin phrase meaning “the highest good.” Often equated with salvation (see Eternity), Nirvana (see Karma), or paradise.
  2. The cessation of all longing or desire; it took four years after leaving the church for me to stop thinking of desire as sin (see Jainism).

[tee-lee-oluh-jee] n.

  1. The philosophy that the reason for something exists in its end; in Mormonism, we are taught that after death we will eventually become deities ourselves; our end goal is post-human; life is just a footstep; we must get beyond.

[yoo-nuh-vurs] n.

  1. The cosmos.
  2. “Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself.” –Alan Watts

Vicarious Atonement
[vahy-kair-ee-uh s uhtohn-muh nt] n.

  1. In Christianity, the idea that Jesus Christ had to suffer for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. Necessary because we are fallen; inherently flawed; too hot with desire (see Summum Bonum). Humanity was only ever something to escape (see Teleology).

[wit-muh n] n.

  1. Walt Whitman, nineteenth-century American poet: “And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul? If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.”
  2. When I first read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, I didn’t like it. Too much sex and ego. My mother agreed—she disliked American lit in general. When a high school English class taught me to love Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wharton, and Miller, I felt scared we could be so different.
  3. Whitman and I have begun to sniff each other in meeting; he smells deliciously of skin.

[zee-non] n.

  1. Chemical element #54; a colorless, odorless Nobel gas.
  2. Used in lamps, lasers, and televisions.
  3. Helpful in studying the formation of the Solar System, the way it hurled itself together out of a spinning disk 4.6 billion years ago, giving birth to the Sun. In roughly five billion years, the sun will cool, expand, and die, sloughing planets like dead skin. Even now, even still, this terrifies me (see Eternity).

[yoo] pro.

  1. Pronoun for second person, singular or plural.
  2. Walt Whitman said, “There is no god any more divine than yourself.” I would like to ask him how to make sense of supernovae, entropy, cold matter in the ground (see Xenon). If gods, we are such brief ones.

[zee-nith or zen-ith] n.

  1. The highest point or state.
  2. Our church youth group drove to Jackson Hole one summer and rode the air tram into the Tetons, up to a white rock summit. From up there, you could see three states at once: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana. You could imagine the whole earth, its vast green globe, all wrapped up like a marble for you to hold. I stepped away from the group, looked out, spread my arms. A plume of white butterflies erupted, spinning in streamers around my head. I tell you, the sun, the rock, my skin—it was such bright matter.

    Alyssa Quinn is an MFA candidate at Western Washington University, where she teaches English composition and works as the assistant managing editor of the Bellingham Review. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Brevity, Sweet, So to Speak, Sink Hollow, and elsewhere


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