"Nice people everywhere are saying 'the universe' instead of 'God' ... what are religious professionals such as myself to make of this?" tweeted my friend, the Rev. Torey Lightcap, on March 5th.
I think, Torey, that when people say "the universe" instead of "God," it's because saying "God" presupposes a certain intimacy with God that most people don't feel. Or, if they feel that intimacy a little bit, it's still too daunting to admit out loud.
I used to say "the universe" all the time, because I was afraid of intimacy with God. Not calling God by God's name is a way of keeping God at an emotional distance, where I can feel some sense of control over how much to let God into my life.
Having a relationship with God means that I have to own up to some responsibilities about who I am, the kind of person that I am, and how I behave towards other people. Saying "the universe" lets me off the hook. It's impersonal, and it's universal (pun intended), not directed at me in particular.
The universe doesn't hold me accountable in the way that God holds me accountable. And the universe doesn't impose any accountability to others on me in the way that a relationship with God does.
I can be anonymous in, to and with the universe; I am nothing more than just one of gazillions of human beings populating this corner of the universe. For a frightened human being who feels lost and small, being anonymous actually feels pretty good, because it doesn't add any noticeable stressors to those already at work in one's life.
Now, Torey, the logical next question to me is, "Why haven't religious professionals figured out how to tell the story of God so that people desire to have a relationship with God?"