I was flipping through my 2005 Associated Press Stylebook to check the correct capitalization of a word when I noticed the following:
agnostic, atheist An agnostic is a person who believes it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
An atheist is a person who believes there is no God.
I immediately wondered why the Associated Press capitalized God in that entry, so I checked.
gods and goddesses Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions.
Lowercase gods and goddesses in references to the deities of polytheistic religions.
It isn’t difficult to understand the agitation these entries elicit, and I’d like to know if they’ve been changed in more current editions of the Stylebook.
- These entries indicate that the only God both agnosticism and atheism contemplate is the monotheistic god.
[Many of us do extend our disbelief to the gods of polytheistic religions.]
- They indicate that all monotheistic religions believe in the same god.
[Monotheistic belief in god is just as multifarious as monotheism.]
- They indicate that the gods of polytheistic religions are somehow less important than the god of monotheistic religions.
[Capitalizing something in the English language gives it more importance than its non-capitalized equivalent. Perhaps the AP is not devaluing polytheism, but instead overpraising monotheism.]
I am happy about one thing, however; and that is the fact they did not capitalize atheist
, because atheism is the disbelief in any god. A capital Atheist might denote an atheist with a specific disbelief - perhaps an Osiris Atheist, or a Shiva Atheist. This is why it is incorrect to capitalize atheist or atheism, because our disbelief is not necessarily limited to “God” and often includes many other deities.
I sometimes wish we could capitalize all nouns in the English language, like the Germans do, and avoid the confusion altogether.