I don’t believe there is a more profound question than whether or not there is a God.

Yet people insist on asking each other this enormously complex question in simple yes-or-no format: Do you believe in God? Yes or no.

Even worse, people feel compelled to answer it just as simply: Yes I do, or, No I don’t.

Many years ago, Plato laid out some philosophies using an interesting technique. Instead of simply explaining what he thought, he imagined some dialogues between people in which the ideas emerged during the conversation. (Douglas Hofstader used the same technique in his wonderful book, Gödel, Escher and Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid.)

Here’s how I imagine a conversation about God might go between two people who are using the brains God gave them (sorry - couldn’t resist):

John: Do you believe in God?

Mary: What do you mean by God?

J: You know: a supreme being.

M: I didn’t ask you to give it another name. I asked you to tell me what you mean when you say ‘God.’

J: (annoyed) Listen, you know very well what I mean when I say ‘God!’

M: (patiently) I assure you that I, Mary, have absolutely no idea what you, John, mean when you use the word ‘God.’

J: (sighing) All right. Do you believe that there is something out there that is bigger than yourself?

M: Of course.

J: (suspicious) Something that is controlling everything.

M: Everything?

J: Yep. Right down to the tiniest atom. Everything, always.

M: Is it controlling me right now?

J: You bet. Hand is on the cosmic tiller.

M: Then what difference does it make what I say?

J: Okay, hold it a second. God also gave you free will.

M: There you go, using that word again without defining it. Are we now talking about the nature of God, or whether or not I believe it exists?

J: Why are you saying ‘it?’

M: What should I say?

J: He.

M: Why? Is it male?

J: I think so.

M: Interesting God. Does it procreate?

J: Of course not! Who’s he going to procreate with?

M: Beats me. I still don’t even know what you’re talking about. But what’s the point of its being male if there’s no female God around?

J: We’re off the track again. I wasn’t interested in whether you thought God was male, just whether you believed there was a God.

M: You’re right. What was God again?


[stage direction: repeat above endlessly, with variations...]


from: A Practical Guide for Everyday Living, by Lee Gruenfeld
* © Copyright 1996, 1997 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

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