Hey, Cary -- you talk about God too much!

The G-word has been cropping up a lot lately -- what's up with that?


Cary Tennis
November 24, 2004 2:31AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I really love your column, I really, really do. But I must complain. I think you've mentioned God twice in three weeks.

I certainly know what it's like to get going on a theme and want to really pull it apart. This God (god) stuff, though, just won't do. First, you're writing for people you don't really know: not just for those asking for your advice, but those reading your fine words. Many of us just don't believe in the Big Guy, and you're shutting us out.

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More important, though, you're a counselor: Telling people to find god is really just abdicating your job. If DD wanted god's help, she would have asked for it. She wanted your help. And she should, because your (secular) help is good. Really good. I'm not ashamed to say that it's changed my life a little bit.

And really, finally, asking for god's help doesn't always work. It's like catching a cold: You can stand shirtless in the rain in bare feet shaking hands with vagrants and try as you might, you can still not get sick. Likewise, you can be out of luck, back to the wall, up shit creek, and down on your knees -- and still not get the help you need from God. He's just not always there.

Enough With the G Word Already

Dear Enough,

Thank you so much for your letter. I should probably stick to regular advice-giving, and not delve into this question. But it's been a nutty few weeks. That may be why the G-word has been popping up.

I think you're right -- there is no way to apply God to specific problems and get uniform results. I would say, though, that the fact that you don't know if it's going to work is exactly the point: Faith follows upon the exhaustion of reason.

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Here's the deal: God is big in recovery, as everybody knows. That's where I picked it up. In recovery, faith does seem to have a fairly predictable effect. In many cases, it seems to help with the overall problem that got you into recovery in the first place, whatever behavior or disease or complaint you've got. What you pick up in recovery tends to stick with you after you're done recovering -- if in fact you're ever done! If it doesn't stick with you, maybe you relapse. Maybe not, but who wants to risk it? So you try to make it stick. So the God thing stuck with me. So I've got my own personal God, not a Christian or Jewish or a Muslim or a Buddhist God but just your generic all-purpose higher being.

And I am interested in those situations that seem to require faith more than reasoned action. I find them most compelling. But I do not mean to be evangelizing. I feel terrible that my mention of God might have the effect of excluding anyone. I don't think of this God as all that exclusionary; it's more your basic neighborhood 7-Eleven god, you know? I don't recommend you set out to find God, either. That's like setting out to find your own asshole: Nobody's going to be that impressed with you when you announce you've found it, and it's not really up to you whether it's there or not. It's just up to you how much time you spend thinking about it.

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OK, so I joke. I know it's a serious topic.

But maybe the word really is the problem. God. What a word. I don't like the other words for it so much -- higher power, supreme being; they all seem like cut-rate substitutes. But maybe the word "God" really is the problem. It's the meaning of the word that's important, and that's what gets obscured by all the associations we have with the word. For me, as I've said before, the word represents everything that's left after everything's been done -- after action, knowledge, thought, planning, persuasion, contingency, will, strategy and thought, after spreadsheet and battle plan, after pitch and treatment and outline, after storyboard and blocking, after plaster cast, after rehearsal, after FDA approval and board signoff, after all of it and more, and everything else, what's still beyond, what's still left, that's what I'm talking about. It's the thing you address when you throw up your hands, the meaningless syllables you mutter when you don't know what else to say. That's all. That's what I'm talking about.

Maybe it would be better, having said all that, to dispense with the word entirely and just say what I just said. The word "God" is so encrusted with history and prejudice and pain. Maybe I should just call it Ralph.

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Anyway, please excuse the digression; I have likely clarified nothing and amused only a few. I'll return to regular form in tomorrow's column.

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