God Only Knows

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.Fred Kamphues / Shutterstock.com
~ 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, 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!

No 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.

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.

Richard Becker


Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. You can find more of Rick’s writing on his blog, God-Haunted Lunatic, and his Facebook page.

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  • Lucy

    This article makes a great point. Bravo. However, as Catholics we have the bar set the highest by Christ Himself to be charitable to others. I believe this fell short of being as kind to Sheryl Crow, and instead was just an opinion about what she’s doing. If I hear gossip about me and what I’m doing it doesn’t bring me closer to Christ. Then again, I could be wrong.

  • Lucy

    I guess I’m just tired of all the celebrity gossip all. the. time. Not on this site, but in general. Every time I go to buy milk there are tabloids. When I turn on the radio there’s “celebrity buzz.” Seeing it headlined on Catholic Exchange rubbed me the wrong way more than I should have let it this morning, Richard.

  • lightedlamp97

    That’s the cool thing about God…He loves us no matter where we are without conditions. He will do that for me everyday no matter how rebellious i may be. I get excited when anyone begins a new unexplained path because I know God’s hand is in that, even if “they” don’t acknowledge it. May we all pray even for those in Hollywood, for they need it. Sheryl Crow is on a crooked path being made straight as we speak. Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” No matter what she calls him right now she is acknowledging his very existence in her life. This is a beginning;)

  • catholicexchange

    Lucy, sorry the article upset you. We certainly don’t try to engage in gossip. This was posted as a way to discuss the faith, and Richard was responding to some public comments made by Ms. Crow. Perhaps the editor (me!) could have chosen a better photo so the focus wasn’t on Crow herself. I’ll keep that in mind as we tug along.

    Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts with us. It’s genuinely appreciated!

    Pax Christi,

  • Rick Becker

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you—no question! “Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved,” as the Council fathers taught us in Lumen Gentium (#16).

    My only concern, and my reason for comment, relates to her claim to be a Christian. I think it’s only just to point out the relevant discrepancies, not only for Crow’s sake, but also for her fans and anybody who reads the interview.

  • Rick Becker

    Thanks, Lucy. My intention was to avoid being snarky, and perhaps I didn’t quite manage that.

    However, I don’t know if my comments rise (sink?) to the level of being gossip. The Crow interview was printed in the Wall Street Journal and is readily accessible online. I was commenting on a very public declaration of religious views which struck me as being conflicted. As you said, I could be wrong, but I think it could be considered a kindness to highlight those conflicts so that they might be clarified or rectified all the quicker.

  • Lee

    I truly believe that each of us has our own opportunity in life to find God. How we do it is totally on our shoulders, and it is our place in life to strive at our own spirituality growth. We need not be concerned where the other persons are in their journey. God loves what He has created and we shall be grateful for this.

  • Yvonne

    Me too

  • JohnE

    But as stated earlier, this is NOT gossip. This is a form of preaching from the pulpit of the Wall Street Journal, widely read by Christians and non-Christians alike. It is a good thing to compare and contrast it with the goodness and truthfulness of Catholicism.

  • morningstar

    How we like to conform God to the image we want Him to be…..a cool God sounds just fine if you are not serious about having a relationship with someone who actually gave up His life that we may live. Cool is “what I think is right, is right” regardless of what our Savior, Jesus Christ taught us and what
    God has commanded us to do to be called His faithful friends and followers.
    Richard, how wonderful to give a chance to our sister,in Christ (as she claims to be Christian, right?), Cheryl Crow to maybe take a look at who she is having a relationship with in her faith journey because religion is not a set of rules to follow, but a relationship with a God who created us and loves us so much that He already set before us the path to follow to gain eternal life. And
    Lee exactly because God loves us, He asks of us to love Him above all and our neighbor as ourselves, so we do have to be concerned about the paths our brothes and sisters take in their faith journey. God wants all of His created ones to enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven one day. We do have to seek Him with all humility.
    We continue to pray for all of us to discern God’s will in our lives.
    Grace abounds.

  • lightedlamp97

    I believe I said, “that’s the cool thing about God,” not that God was cool. However God is everything good so cool could describe him as well. Maybe awesome would have been a better word to use but my husband has been saying that I use that word too much:). God bless u on your journey and thank u for reminding me that words matter. Right now, I’m just practicing not judging others and meeting people where they are. That is what I like about discussions like this, the insight into how people see me. Sorry if you were offended in any way. God is use to me!

  • chaco

    “How we like to conform God to the image we want Him to be.” That’s it in a nutshell; Relativism is the “Name of the Game”; There is no Truth except that which is RELATive(not absolute) to my own experience & appetites. Looks good on paper but soon we must realize that claiming Truth is relative amounts to asserting an absolute truth. If someone won’t acknowledge that Truth can’t contradict itself, I limit conversation to the weather or the price of corn because otherwise, it will only be a circular exchange. If they “Open the door a crack” to the possibility of absolutes, I first present the need to sometimes go against our immediate will at any particular time; I use the example of an athlete needing to go against their inclination to lay around rather than practise if they want to experience the thrill of victory (see 2 Cor. 12: 9). If that gets my foot in the door, the next thing I try is the idea of an “Owner’s Manual” which consists of 1) Tradition 2) Bible 3) Magisterium Then, if they don’t have the will to accept that [People sin more from lack of will than from lack of understanding], I tell them “Good luck choosing between some 30,000 protestant/ evangelical free churches.”

  • Barrysullivan1

    I think it is important that we charitably point out the error when others make public pronouncements on faith and moral issues as Miss Crowe did. Because she is a celebrity many folks will read what she has to say and if no one corrects her then many will think her views on God are as valid as anyone elses. I think you were very objective and charitable.

  • Barrysullivan1

    God instructs us in the Gospel to charitably teach and correct, if need be, when our brothers or sisters are in error. We do not condemn their souls but we should charitably inform and correct them. For example, if someone says all religions are equal we should try and inform them otherwise shouldn’t we? If we all just respect where others are then it would seem we will never have conversions?

  • Lee

    This is seemingly true. I will not disagree. But no matter how much I might tell others what is the Truth and what is good and right, they still have to shoulder their decisions and find Christ in their own way. And God will always be there, waiting.

  • Barrysullivan1

    I agree that each of us must choose to believe or not. This is true of many decisions. Our calling is to provide them with information and witness to the Truth just as we educate young people to the dangers of drugs even though they must make the decision.