By Published On: August 11th, 20064 Comments

I think I’m on some sort of special religious phone-missionaries’ hit list.

I don’t mean they want to kill me. I just think maybe they really, really want to convert me. Or else they think I’m close enough to the light to be worth some extra effort. I really don’t know. But I get many more calls from them than my friends do.

You might think I’m exaggerating. Suffice to say, I’ve been called often enough that now, right away, I give him or her a fair warning of what’s coming.

Which they invariably never heed.

godcalling.jpgLike the last call I got. I wanted to be polite to this nice, elderly lady. She launched in with the standard questions designed to get me agreeing, talking about the world crisis of poverty and war etc. Didn’t I think our leaders were failing to solve it? And couldn’t the underlying problem be our lack of spirituality?

I intervened as respectfully as I could. “You may as well hang up on me right now, ma’am. Because you’re going to hang up on me eventually.”

“Why do you say that?” I heard her strategy shifting slightly.

I explained. “I’ve been contacted by religious people many times before, and they all hang up on me eventually. Because yes, I can tell you I do think the world is in crisis, and I do take these problems very seriously. I take the question of God seriously, too. Unfortunately, my experience tells me that I actually take these topics more seriously than most religious callers like yourself do, and so you’re eventually going to get bored and irritated with me and hang up.”

Of course, any dedicated missionary would take such remarks as a challenge. I quickly realized I’d just inadvertently done the hockey play-off equivalent of calling the opposing team’s best fighter a wussy-pie.

“Oh, I take Our Lord very seriously, I assure you,” she responded.

She talked then, and I listened. She told me about her beliefs and how inspiring they were, and could be for me. It was obvious she’d said these same words many times before; perhaps already many times that evening.

My brain started to go to sleep. My mind reverted to thinking about errands I had to run, deadlines I had to meet.

At some point she asked me one of those rhetorical questions designed to get a quick, patent answer that makes you feel like you’re actively participating in the conversation. “Wouldn’t you like to save money on your phone bill?” “Well, obviously, it’s nice to save money, but–” “Exactly! That’s why you want to hear me rant for ten minutes more about our company’s extraordinary savings plan…”

The kindly woman asked, “Are you looking for a better way of life, sir?”

I paused. I tried to think of how to respond in a way that really expressed how I was feeling.

Finally, I answered. “Are you asking that question rhetorically, just waiting for the predictable reply before you continue speaking? Or do you honestly want to hear and consider what I have to say on this subject? Because first off, for us to really have a dialogue, you’re going to have to put your belief in God aside. Can you consider the possibility that maybe you are living in illusion and have lost your way in life? Can you do that?”

There was no chance at all, she assured me.

“This is the whole problem,” I replied. “You’ve called me up with the intention of getting me to deeply question myself, my life and my beliefs about existence and God, haven’t you? Yet you won’t do the same thing.”

She said she didn’t need to question; she knew God.

“So how can we truly dialogue, then?” I continued. “All that’s really going on here is you believe something, and regardless of what I say, you won’t consider for one second changing your mind. You’re not really listening to me with an open heart and mind. You’re just propagandizing me. I may as well be talking with a TV commercial. And why would you expect me to behave any differently than you?”

She quoted something about faith in face of questioning.

“You believe, do you not, that you’re a messenger for God’s word? Well is it possible God’s trying to speak to you, through me?”

“You’re not God!” she cried, calling the conversation “crazy”, and hanging up.

It amazes me. Many people will believe or not believe in God for decades, but few will persistently question their beliefs for even minutes.

And isn’t it a travesty that religions have coopted the entire dialogue about God in our culture? They dominate practically all the discussion in our media. Even “non-religiously spiritual” people use concepts constructed by religions, and most rationalists dismiss the topic altogether.

Yet maybe this question of God demands something more from us. Maybe God, like death or a glimpse into the infinite universe, is one of those ineffable notions the very purpose of which is to challenge our habitual patterns of thinking and catapult us into creative exploration of the unknown together.

We are, after all, discussing the greatest mysteries of existence: origins, the universe, life. And what could be more important than discovering what context, if any, everything exists within?

It’s unfortunate we rarely discuss it. And to reduce these discussions into mechanical, propagandistic dialogues seems almost, well, blasphemous.


Originally published in Focus, August 2006.


  1. Chris September 10, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    Hey Rob. Great article. I have a big problem with religious texts. It seems like there’s so much good and interesting stuff in, say, the Bible – just look at the opening!! – but then people have to hold it as dogma, or interpret it literally, usually both. People get so resistant to acknowledging the usual frames of a work of writing when it’s become their faith.
    Take care,

  2. Rob Wipond September 13, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Yeah! But you know, here’s another weird twist on it: Damn, if Bible-lovers actually DID take the WHOLE Bible honest-to-god dogmatically, imagine how they’d actually behave! That’s the tragedy: They can neither fully appreciate the Bible as just Wild Art, nor truly treat it as God’s Word. It seems one of humanity’s fatal flaws: always to be wallowing around in the wishy-washy middle. We’re all Bible-thumpers who don’t ACTUALLY take our Bibles seriously.

  3. Jay Morritt October 23, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I belong to a men’s team, and we meet every wednesday. Our context for team meetings this quarter is spirituality, and we had the first dialogue on that topic yesterday. Several of the men were clearly not accustomed to dialoguing about their relationship with God, or the cosmic, or — . The question posed to each man was “Who are you, in an impersonal sense.” It was amazing to watch what happened. The men who didn’t have a clear religious or spiritual affiliation had a very difficult time finding words to express themselves. They squirmed in their chairs, attmepting to evade the snare of the religious net which has snatched up all the language around spirituality. It was simple question, which I heard as “What do you have in common with all creation?” However, the answers focused heavily on whether or not men believed in the Christian God, or some other religious philosophical template for explaining what is bigger than little ego-selves. It was as if all their feelings about the spiritual had first to pass through a seive of religio-validity in order to enter the dialogue. Men were obviously frustrated and resentful of being so hemmed in.

  4. Rob Wipond October 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jay. I can well imagine this scene!

    It’s pretty similar to other instances in our lives of how cliched ideas and positions come to dominate a topic to the point it’s difficult to talk without having to deal with the cliches first, isn’t it? That polarization is so extreme in modern U.S. politics, for instance, it’s difficult for anyone to posit anything without it immediately being framed by others as “typically Democrat/left wing” or “typically Republican/right wing”, and so bogging the discussion down in all the baggage associated with those ideas. And ironically, in that case, it’s rarely close to accurate: the Democrats as a whole actually rarely approach true left wing ideals, and the Republicans are not even vaguely like traditional right-wing idealists. So I guess my point is, a lot of times, the very purpose of these dominant, cliched motifs is to actively suppress real thinking and actual dialogue. They just function as part of a struggle for power and control. Apart from the whole issue of religion, really, we’re discussing a very Orwellian example of dummed-down language as a powerful tool of social-political oppression on the psychological level.

Leave A Comment