Let’s Talk about Faith, not Religion; God is the Great Whatever

God is the Great Whatever. God is “un-getable” — we just can’t “get” the idea of God like we get algebra or something. Yeah.

I like this lady’s use of words. And yeah also to her plan to talk about our partnerships with God, not argue about what we have decided He/She/It is like. Her new discussion sounds worth joining. — +Katia


By Martha Woodroof
Washington Post
April 30, 2010

I am a person of faith who is not religious. By this I mean that while I live in partnership with God, the great Whatever, I claim no knowledge of God’s relatives, nature and modus operandi. I believe that everything about God beyond the simple fact of Its existence and availability is beyond my understanding and so beyond the scope of my words. I make no claim to wisdom of any kind about God, only to experience with God.

That’s why I decided to start Faith Unboxed , which I hope will be an unconventional online conversation about living one’s faith rather than practicing (or preaching) one’s religion. I’d much rather talk about how we experience God than argue about what we have decided about God, wouldn’t you?

As I’m not a pundit, a preacher, or a scholar, deciding to host such a faith-centric conversation about the great Whatever leaves me wide open to charges of uppityness. What’s the deal here, lady? You think you get God and the rest of us don’t? Not exactly: What I think is that a) God is intrinsically un-getable; and b) most of our current conversation about God and God’s doings ignores this, conflating practicing one’s religion and living one’s faith.

God, the great Whatever, is ubiquitous in American thinking, society, politics, literature, architecture, conversation — even, through quarterback Tim Tebow’s facial paint in college football. I would wager heavily that none of us escapes growing up without a kissing concept of the great Whatever–some idea implanted in our brains by our elders about what we’re supposed to believe or not believe about God’s presence, doings, relatives, etc. As adults, we may decide to accept those ideas, modify them, rebel against them, or turn our backs on the whole confusing mishmash. But we have all most likely decided something about God.

What we don’t often do as adults — whether because we lack inclination or courage or imagination — is to acknowledge that God, in order to be God, exists completely detached from any human conception of God. The great Whatever is only what the great Whatever is, not what our parents, pundits, preachers or priests say It is. Or for that matter, what they say It isn’t.

So . . . with all due respect, it seems to me desperately wasteful, arrogant and cowardly for us humans to argue so much about religion — i.e. our human-sized conceptions of God’s aforementioned relatives, nature and modus operandi. Missing from most of these battles is any recognition that if God is, God is also beyond our comprehension. We can never know about God in the same way we know about chickens or algebra or documented history; elaborate and compelling religious stories explaining God and God’s family are still stories. Insisting that these stories are true, or even integral parts of our relationship with God, seems to me to confuse the value of accepting what humans have said about God with the value of living in partnership with God.

Arguing about God is, of course, much less troublesome and anxiety-provoking than taking on the demands and responsibilities of a partnership with the Almighty. Indeed, the challenges of any organized religion (or those other God-in-a-box concepts, atheism and agnosticism) begin to seem like effortless glides on greased grooves when compared to the challenges of living one’s faith. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a great deal of public wrangling about the fine points of religion and very little useful public exploration of what it means to live and work together — in this world at this time — as persons of faith.

I hope this online conversation starts such an exploration. I challenge you to join me in thinking beyond everything we’ve come to accept about the great Whatever through habit, upbringing, learned ritual and doctrine. I challenge us, instead, to explore afresh the meaning and responsibilities of faith, of living in active partnership with God, both as an individual and in community. And I challenge us to do this exploration fearlessly, with uncensored curiosity and open-mindedness.

To give our conversation structure, over the next 12 months, I’ll post a dozen questions (one each month) along with my own short (for the most part) answers. My hope is that you will post your own answers and then respond to each others’ posts. Civility and respect are the only criteria for participation. This means no talk of burning in hell or scholarly howls of derision.

Join me here at On Faith the first Sunday of each month for a look at the question. Join me every day at Faith Unboxed for the discussion. Is it possible to have an open, useful and civil online conversation about faith, not religion? We shall see.


Martha Woodroof freelances for NPR and writes, reports, and blogs for public radio station WMRA in Virginia.

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Katia is a consecrated independent sacramental bishop. She directs the online Esoteric Mystery School and Interfaith Theological Seminary. Check it out at NorthernWay.org.

8 thoughts on “Let’s Talk about Faith, not Religion; God is the Great Whatever”

  1. Katia, thanks so much for joining the Faith Unboxed conversation and encouraging others to do so. I’m high-fiving you in spirit! All cheer, M

  2. Hi Katia!

    Love it, love it, love it! Thank you so much for posting Martha Woodroof’s writing on this subject. I laughed when I read her phrase “God’s relatives,” as in…only one son? Fortunately I believe in the idea that we are all Our Maker’s Daughters and Sons.

    Like many, I’ve come to a point where whatever someone’s theological choices are, it really don’t seem to matter in the face of actions that are cruel, intentionally rude, or unkind. I care more about the conscious desire to be kind, and to refrain from cruelty, than I do about someone’s choice of religion.

    There is certainly enough suffering going on in the world that we ought not be too concerned about that elusive thing called “truth.” Part of me is pretty weary of the “spiritual” bickering, the “I’m right and you are wrong” thing.

    The “Great Whatever” hasn’t described itself, it’s we who have given it names and qualities.
    I try, as hard as I can, while migrating between the pitfalls we all encounter, to remember that we are all part of the same family.

    I may use the word “Christian,” as in Goddess-Pagan-Christian, to describe myself, but that doesn’t mean that I belong to a church, it just means that I respond to the beauty and power of the Sacred Feminine, just as I respond to Jesus’ wonderful teachings.

    Jennifer Reif
    “The Holy Book of Mary Magdalene”

  3. Like many, I’ve come to a point where whatever someone’s theological choices are, it really doesn’t seem to matter in the face of actions that are cruel, intentionally rude, or unkind. I care more about the conscious desire to be kind, and to refrain from cruelty, than I do about someone’s choice of religion.

  4. Dear Jennifer:

    I agree, I agree! You say it so poetically, “I respond to the beauty and power of the Sacred Feminine, just as I respond to Jesus…”

    Sing it sistah.



  5. When one begins to define God, one limits God by the very definition. When we imagine what God is, in our own minds, we create God in our own image, limited by our own imaginings that we attribute to Him. God is transcendent – He/She is far beyond what we know, what we believe, what we imagine, what we conceive. Faith is believe in that which is unseen and cannot be proven. Spirituality is the connection between the individual – the soul, and what feeds, empowers, energizes, and maintains the soul. Man exists in the temporal plane for a given amount of time that varies per individual, then transitions into a new existence which we are incapable of intellectually comprehending. We measure our lives in linear time, but the measure our existence is timeless. God simply is. God has always been, and God will always be. The key to faith and spirituality is understanding that our connection to God is an eternal one – but our awareness of that connection is one we must seek, must establish, and must maintain.

  6. I am on a journey that has lasted a lifetime. I began in a family full of Southern Baptist preachers and missionaries. Back then (early 50’s) That church was mainline Christian, but has grown more and more fundamentalist and conservative as time went on. 30 years ago I married and joined another Protestant denomination that is more flexible and is able to discuss ideas like those presented by Martha Woodroof. I have grown happier as my faith has become more and more inclusive. I have had more love for people and stronger faith in G_d in all G_d’s guises. Thank you Martha and Katia for giving us this forum.

  7. The more we of mankind get to know and understand ourselves the more we will get to know about God the great Whatever.

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