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? [1]

“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.” [2]

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.


[1] I vote fricken awesome.

[2] 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.