God Only Knows

15 Sep

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong.
~ G.K. Chesterton

Sheryl Crow must be a pretty big star. I know this because it’s apparently significant that she’s gone all country now—significant enough to warrant an interview in the Wall Street Journal.

Crow’s country conversion also included a move to the country—to rural Tennessee where she’s hunkering down with her kids on a big farm. But Sheryl’s celebrity and music and domestic arrangements are not what caught my attention. It was her religion. Here it is:

Since I was 21, I’ve always had a strong relationship and an everyday, ongoing dialogue with a higher power. He or She seems to be most evident in nature, which I guess is why I’m so environmentally driven to preserve what we have around here.

It’s a religion, alright, and Crow “considers herself a Christian,” but really it’s her own personal credo—a DIY version of religion that most people call their “spirituality” these days.

Baloney. There’s a lot of nonsense going around about the divorce between rigid, stale religion (which some people still feel the need to cling to), and effervescent, lively spirituality (which everybody can possess apart from religious belief), but it’s all bunk. Any spiritual insight or practice that isn’t merely a fleeting whim morphs into a religion almost immediately. A religion is a rule, a pattern, and if you repeat a spiritual innovation, even just once, *BAM*, you’ve got yourself a religion. All you need is tax exempt status, and you’re in business!

Sheryl-Crow-Beach-Her-Kids-PicturesNo offense to Sheryl Crow, by the way. It sounds like she’s been through some rough patches, including cancer and divorce, and I respect that she’s trying to do right by her two boys—reconciling a hectic superstar performer’s career with motherhood can’t be easy. I’m sure her spirituality—her religion—has been a comfort to her, and it helps her find her way.

But an “everyday relationship” with a He or She? I’m guessing Sheryl hedged on the gender to avoid giving offense, and she’s free to believe as she sees fit, of course. But, if a hedge, is it really a good idea to shape belief in deference to the sensitivities of others? And if it wasn’t a hedge, is that really how she addresses her Higher Power? Wouldn’t “He and She” be preferable? Or just “She,” if it’s simply a nod to feminist sensibilities?

If I were on the prowl for a fresh take on Christianity, I’d keep my antennae up for ideas that work the negative side of the God equation—a.k.a., apophatic theology, an import from the East that zeroes in on what we know we don’t know. To wit: No definitive revelation about whether God is He or She? Then, skip the question altogether, and use “It.” After all, Obi-Wan Kenobi never used a personal pronoun in reference to The Force. It wasn’t a person; it was a thing. You don’t dialogue with a thing, and there’s no reason to ascribe personhood (and gender[s]) to a thing if you don’t have to.

In any case, I’m not in the market for a new religion. I like Catholicism, one of the old ones. I’m lousy at it, but I believe what the Church teaches. It somehow helps make sense of a crazy world, and I even retain some hope that God won’t give up on me despite my daily moral blunders, volitional gaffes, and outright scaly sins.Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580

Plus, orthodox Christianity includes plenty of apophatic elements, in addition to paradox and mystery. It’s an adventure; it’s dangerous; it’s truly the Wild West of religions. And the best part is that, at its core, Christianity is a Person—a definite “He” who breathed the same air as we.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you (I John 1:1-3).

Jesus practiced a trade, made friends and enemies, ate, drank, suffered, died. And yet He lives still, inviting our relationship and dialogue. It’s a maddening Faith, calling us to sanctity in the midst of our frailty. Outrageous, keeping us always a bit off balance, but earthy and real. I’ll take that over a DIY’er religion any day.

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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One Response to “God Only Knows”

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  1. God Only Knows | One Thousand Words a Week - September 15, 2013

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