Dismantling the “Old White Guy” God-Myth


A.W. Tozer once said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." So what comes into your mind when you think of God? A man or woman or an amorphous ball of light? Is this Being safe or dangerous, predictable or sporadic, gentle or temperamental? Author Margot Starbuck argues that many today believe in a mythical God--namely, an "old white guy"--and not the One who actually exists. In her book, "Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God," the Princeton Seminary graduate and seasoned writer encourages us to embrace a different God--one who loves us as we are, not as we should be. Here, we discuss her book and this provocative concept.

RNS: You claim that people assign a face—an image—to an invisible God. Say more.

MS: From an early age, our brains create a picture of an un-seeable God, and our experience of important people in our lives contributes—probably more than we realize—to that composite image. But we also glean God’s likeness from the representations of God we’ve seen and heard: an illustrated Bible storybook featuring bearded-Jesus, an oil painting of glowing-Jesus in the creepy basement of Grandma’s church, or, if we’re really sophisticated, a muscular 65-year-old pale-skinned deity peeled from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

RNS: Are there other pop cultural images that influence how we see God?

Great question. One of the previous pastors at the church I attend had a deep booming voice, and people often remarked that “he sounded like God.” Where did they get that? How did they know God doesn’t have a high squeaky voice?

I’m pretty sure it was the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille "Ten Commandments" movie, starring Charlton Heston. Heston played Moses, but also performed God’s deep bass voice coming from the burning bush. In the late 1970’s, 81-yr-old George Burns played God in the “Oh, God” comedies. And, of course, a few films have since dared to present God as something other than an old white guy--Morgan Freeman, in "Bruce Almighty" or Alanis Morisette in "Dogma"—though I’m not sure the last few are gaining any real traction in the collective psyche over “old white guy.”

RNS: Do you think race and gender are significant in how we view God?