What is a deepity?
Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME) To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.
What is a UME? Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.
Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities. To which I say, I know you are, but what am I?
Ineffable Religion vs. Deepities
Is religion full of deepities or is human language insufficient to communicate the divine? Maybe both are true. Deepities seem to be the spiritual equivalent of bumper stickers, sound bites and slogans, and they can provide comfort to people, one of the purposes of religion. But scriptures also refer to the difficulty or impossibility of communicating God-style. How do we express the ineffable?
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
What is so profound that it cannot be expressed? I’ll tell you if you tell me first.
And it came to pass that he went again a little way off and prayed unto the Father; And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed. And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed. Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man. And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief. Verily I say unto you, there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard. (3 Nephi 19 31-36)
Are things we can’t express too deep for words or are we fooling ourselves? Is this just a cop out?
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
And while we’re on the topic of Joseph Campbell, is this next quote a deepity or just fricken awesome? 
“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Everybody’s Doing It
Deepities are not unique to any specific religion. Here are some possible deepities:
- Hinduism: “None but a god can worship a god.”
- Or one we heard from our Indian tour guide: “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.” I’m now seeing this on all sorts of posters about all sorts of things. Sorry, but it’s kinda dumb.
- Buddhism: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I’m not sure if this is a deepity or if I’m just too stupid to get it. It does, however, make an excellent punchline.
- Cocktail parties: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?” The deepity aspect of this is asking whether communication exists if it is unreceived, although the scientific basis for the question is that sound is a vibration, and is heard when the ear drum vibrates. So if it’s not “heard” was it sound?
But religions and philosophies are also full of profound yet simply stated wisdom, such as these:
- Buddhism: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” To become wise, you eventually have to transcend your teacher’s limits. Or kill him. Whatever.
- Hinduism: “Neither seek nor avoid. Take what comes.” Swami Vivikananda. He also said “We came to enjoy; we are being enjoyed. We came to rule; we are being ruled. We came to work; we are being worked.” Good stuff, Swami. Also an ironic twist on “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:5)
- Buddhism: “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.”
- Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Also, this total rip off quote: “When you look at the dark side, you must be careful for the dark side looks back.” 
Here are a few that seem to be Mormon deepities:
- “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it.” P.S. Jesus never said this.
- “You can’t be right by doing wrong, and you can’t be wrong by doing right.” Pres. Monson
- “Everyone comes with baggage. Find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack.” (from Pinterest, author not cited). Cutesy, but silly.
- “If you only pray when you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble.” (another anonymous Mormon quote from Pinterest). I like this one, but it’s not profound.
- “Choose your love, and love your choice.” Pres. Monson again. He’s just a deepity dude. This sounds kind of profound, but the first statement “choose your love” just makes love and choice a UME.
Not all church leaders are deepity-dispensers, though. Here’s a quote that I think passes the thinker’s test:
“The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief. It is true, even if nobody believes it.” Deiter F. Uchtdorf. Which reminds me of this little Robert Frost poem: “We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.” And if Robert Frost is mere deepities, stop the world–I want to get off.
- What Mormon deepities have you heard?
- Do you think that religion includes what cannot be expressed? Defend your answer.
 I vote fricken awesome.
 Neitzsche said it first: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into you.”
*This post was originally discussed at By Common Consent in February 2016.
Honest question (which is usually internet code for not honest question but I swear this one is different): How does Pres Uchtdorf’s quote pass the test? There is a pretty robust argument on the nature of truth. In a world where that debate is not happening the Uchtdorf quote appears to violate rule 1 whereas in a world informed by a debate on truth the quote appears to violate rule 2. It reminds me of the quote “science is true weather you believe it or not!” Um, what? That treats science like a creed instead of a process that has theories, experiments and varying degrees of consensus on any given issue. I don’t even know what it means to believe in science. And again, both Uchtdorf’s and the Science quote pre-suppose some deceptively simple definition of truth.
Again, I want to emphasize that both of these examples could be demonstrating that I don’t really understand what deepities are, but those were my thoughts after reading the Uchtdorf quote. and there really could be something I am missing.
I also wonder if it is really possible to say anything profound and logically consistent in three sentences or less? Or does to be profound and logically consistent does it always take more?
Neal A. Maxwell has a couple of quotes I thought were profound: “Moments are the molecules that make up eternity” and “Selfishness is really just self destruction in slow motion.” But maybe some other commentator will read them the way I read the Uchtdorf quote and find them lacking too.
Just a note on the “wisdom” of Yoda. His “There is no try” philosophy was a big deal among Mormons in the 70s, even before Star Wars came out. “I tried” was about the lamest excuse for failure you could offer. Now, the brethren are going hard in the other direction. For example, Dallin Oaks, in the last conference: “We will come to understand that success in sharing the gospel is inviting people with love and genuine intent to help them, no matter what their response.” In other words, trying. That doesn’t demote either sentiment to a deepity, but they can’t both be right.
I’m not sure if religion includes things that can’t be expressed, but I desperately want it to.
In Western Christianity, I think the idea of worship is meant to convey that sense of being on the cusp of something unknowable or inexplicable and recognizing it, and I think different denominations interpret worship with varying degrees of success. In my history teacher brain, I identify worship with Romanticism and transcendentalism — with this idea that to experience the divine is to be dwarfed by it.
When I sit in LDS services, though, it’s clear that I’ve landed in an Age of Reason church. We snicker at the Nicene Creed (how can people believe in a deity that isn’t like them? Unknowable and undefinable? Please, that’s just lazy theology) and revel in the formulaic knowability of our God (He appeared to our founder, and He looks just like us. Tangible body, separate from His son, and sure, we’ll throw in a disembodied third guy just in case we need a little flexibility). We teach that God used to be just like us, and we’re gonna be just like Him, follow the formula for plug and chug salvation.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some positives to this God of reason, most especially the idea of a close personal relationship. But I’ve been missing worship and the unknowable in my religion. I find myself wondering what if Joseph’s descriptions of the first vision are his mind’s attempts to describe the indescribable? We’ve built a whole church around the details of that description — God’s maleness, for one — when it’s entirely likely that wasn’t the point. Or even accurate.
To put it another way, I’m sick of being Kirk in a Spock church. I could use a little more of the ineffable and the mythical and the unknowable.
Jason B: A challenge to my defense of Uchtdorf’s quote? Let me take another look at it: “The thing about truth is that it exists beyond belief. It is true, even if nobody believes it.”
Pro (to it having a deeper meaning): I was probably going for one of two things: 1) what Elizabeth St. Dunstan refers to in her comment as the ineffability of religion, that there is more than can be expressed (which is also how Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer talk about it), and 2) the different definitions of “truth,” that truth isn’t necessarily a set of facts (knowledge), but also wisdom, knowing how to use facts. I mean, clearly in that second example I was reading between the lines / making crap up that isn’t there. But isn’t that what a big chunk of religion is?
Con (to it having a deeper meaning): Actual deep thoughts seldom start with “the thing is.” And I am probably just twitterpated by the Silver Fox.
So, yeah, good call out.
I’m skeptical about the assertion that theology is full of deepities. Maybe bad theology is.
I would have given you bonus points for mentioning that ponderize talk. I believe its important to read and consider the scriptures. You can ruminate, reflect, appraise, assess, and hell, even ponder them. But there was no need to invent a new and incredibly stupid buzz word to describe the skill.
Elizabeth St Dunstan, it’s curious to me that you feel our Spock church (perfect sentiment, btw) lacks the unknowable and mythical. Assuming the Jos. Smith vision is accurate – that God is male and he has a body like other males – that seems almost more improbable than, say, God being formless or having 12 arms. To me, the unknowable mystery isn’t what God looks like, but how he came to be. How he transcends space and time. Or if he’s even real. I mean where/when the crap did he come from? But there I go, trying to Spock the unknowable.
To the OP, I think there are things that are nearly inexplicable. We attempt to express them through various mediums (word, deed, art, music, etc); some attempts may be perfectly and accurately expressed, but not necessarily received. Communication takes expression and reception, and I feel that while, yes, we can articulate deeply complex thoughts, feelings and experiences, I don’t necessarily feel that those exact same things can be equally “received.” Not unless someone already… knows.
I’ve heard the reason why you should kill the buddha if you meet him on the road is because buddha never professed to be buddha so whomever you met is lying. So kill a liar? I don’t get it. Especially because Buddhism is nonviolent. Definitely a deepity.
“I think, therefore I am.” is one person’s answer to a core question. But what I see more of (even in myself), “I think as little as possible, therefore I am shallow.”
My brain is too tired after a hard day at work to dip into deep deepity.
Q: That’s not what that saying means at all. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha means that you shouldn’t look to the Buddha (or other people) as the source of your enlightenment. You find enlightenment through your own efforts, not through a teacher. https://www.quora.com/What-does-if-you-meet-the-Buddha-on-the-road-kill-him-mean
Angela C : I suppose I should have Googled it, lol. That explanation makes more sense and I love his idea of a spiritual kick-in-the-head. How very violent indeed.
In discussing St. Augustine, Terryl Givens notes that God’s infinitude requires that “His operations cannot adequately be captured in normal language. The very distinction between the sacred and the mundane… would collapse if language could simply and straightforwardly refer to either realm on the same terms.” Later he said, “The ineffable, in other words, must remain forever demarcated from the material. To collapse the two into one would signal the collapse of the sacred itself.”
“To articulate in human terms, to subject to concrete utterance is to assimilate to human universe. By the same token, any insufficiency we find in language would serve as guarantor of the transcendent, just as surely as the transcendent affirms the insufficiency of language. To contain the power of language to refer, to name, is to assure the survival of a realm beyond the human one. Or the illusion of one, in any case. … The impression or sensation of something beyond language, in other words, suggests something sublime and worthy of worship.” (By The Hand of Mormon, pg. 75)
Here’s are some deepities:
“The prophet will not lead us astray.”
“Our doctrine never changes.”
Wait – oh, sorry about that. These aren’t examples of our deepities; they’re just examples of our false doctrines.