Mormon Deepities

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.”



  1. From the deepities dished out at people having a hard time file:

    “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

    “This must be part of God’s plan.”

    “Heavenly Father has something he wanted you to learn from this.”

    I also figure anything that can be condensed to a Twitter meme is probably a deepity.

  2. “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it.” That one has truly got to go. If aliens attack our planet, it will probably be on the basis of this ever having been uttered, even once.

  3. The Book of Ecclesiasties is full of deepities, all very existential.

  4. Not sure it’s specific to Mormonism, but “It is what it is” got a lot of airtime when I was growing up. As far as OT books with deepities go, you can’t ignore the other Wisdom Lit books: Proverbs and Job.

    Religion is often about experiencing what cannot be expressed. Ezekial and Isaiah’s attempts at describing angels come to mind. Pretty much any description of a vision is going to fall short of the actual wonder and awe from the experience. Related is Alma the Younger attempting to describe experiencing the pains of hell. Primary leaders and parents often use blankets to try to convey what the Holy Ghost feels like to a little kid. They are using tactile sensation to describe a spiritual manifestation, since it’s hard to grasp by words alone.

  5. Like it says in the Bible: “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate … So shake it off.”

  6. sir_didymus says:

    I think we reached Peak Mormon Deepity with the whole “Ponderize” fiasco in October. Ick.
    Another Deepity that is oft repeated is the “other religions have percentages of the truth but we have ALL the truth.” I’ve even seen this presented in Sunday School and Relief Society with the teacher writing random numbers below 100 to illustrate the degrees of truth other churches could have. This sentiment earns Deepity status in its interpretation. I’ve heard this as a means to (what else?) judge others, assuming we “already know,” for example, that all homosexuals are doomed to hell (apparently we believe in a hell when “the gays” are involved). We’re so full of truth we don’t even need revelation anymore! So much truth we forgot about the 9th Article of Faith!

  7. “Everything happens for a reason.”

    Well, duh. Everything has a cause. That doesn’t mean that the cause isn’t meaningless or unfair. Yes, everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason is bad decisions, sometimes it is lack of planning, sometimes it is malice, etc. This is supposed to be comforting?

  8. A couple of the ones you mentioned aren’t really deepities, mainly the Zen Buddhist ones (the sound of one hand clapping, if a tree falls in a forest with no one around). These are Zen koans, and my understanding of Zen is that they’re not supposed to mean anything or reveal any particular truth, but they’re a tool for meditation and exercising the mind.

    Also, perhaps my understanding of what a deepity is is flawed, but I thought it was something that at the outset sounds true and profound, but upon further inspection turns out to mean nothing. Some of the things you wrote are the opposite of that, and appear to mean nothing at first but have more meaning the deeper you look into them. I wouldn’t call those deepities, and I think a lot of things that are actually profound are dismissed out of hand just because the person hasn’t decided to really think about them.

    A good example is the Yoda quote. It’s an idea obviously lifted from Daoism. It isn’t, as most people think, about whether one will succeed in doing the thing that one has set out try to do, it’s about doing the thing without trying to do it. Daoism stresses “non-action” or “effortless action,” which is action that occurs without a person consciously thinking about and trying to do it, like something that is second nature to someone. The goal of Daoism is for every single action we take to be this way, and to them it’s the only proper way to do anything. On the surface, of course, telling someone they have to act without acting means nothing. However, the more you think about it and look into it, the more sense it makes, because there are already things that we do in our lives that follow that pattern. I mean, when was the last time you *tried* to drive a car? Do you get in your car every morning and really *try* to drive it, or do you just drive it? It’s really the same thing.

    My point, of course, is that one shouldn’t dismiss something simply because it doesn’t sound deep, because it might actually be deeper than it seems.

  9. I came to get down, I came to get down, so get out your seats and jump around! – House of Pain

  10. Entertaining article! By definition, religion is going to involve the ineffable, since by definition, religion is about spiritual experience. I have always found it difficult to describe or express spiritual experience in words.

  11. Tiger got to hunt,
    Bird got to fly;
    Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’
    Tiger got to sleep,
    Bird got to land,
    Man got to tell himself he understand.

  12. Another Angela says:

    One of my personal favorite deepities is “I never said I never said it would be easy.” –Jesus

  13. This conversation reminds me a lot of Lowry’s “precision of language” in The Giver. I think, even aside from trying to explain the Sublime, words are tremendously fickle things. Words tend to signify different things to different people at different times. Speaker and listener are both actively creating meaning.
    I think we could waste a lot of time arguing back and forth if a given phrase is trite and banal or significant. But being aware that some phrases are problematic for some people is also helpful, if we are really trying to communicate meaningfully.

    Also cf.

  14. I think the danger lies with the shorthand or the pithy quote replacing intent and thought and action – and ultimately kindness. It’s one I’ve fallen into and it’s what makes things like “no blessings will be withheld from you” or “It’s all part of God’s plan” ring hollow – we use them as shorthand when we don’t know what to say to someone experiencing pain (or more when we are uncomfortable with someone else being in pain). I figure that’s why the Lord charges us with mourning with those that mourn rather than “quote platitudes at those that mourn”. But the million little things people do to mourn with folks that suffer take a long time to rack up and in their small ways are beyond language. We can describe them: I was down and a friend invited me to dinner. I just broke up with my girlfriend and the guys took me bowling. I can’t stop crying but my friend talked with me all night.

    But the varied nature and mundane quality of the services we offer one another out of kindness and care stretch a bit beyond the expressable, not that we shouldn’t try (it can teach us things when we try).

    I’m troubled by the shorthands that are repeated a lot (‘sweet spirit,’ anyone?) – it hearkens to Elder Bednar’s warnings about brushing off familiar lessons. When meaning and words part ways, we are in trouble.

  15. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” What doesn’t kill a person can leave him/her angry, hateful, bitter and blaming God for what happened. Nothing stronger about that.

  16. “Gotta gotta get up to get down.” – Coolio

  17. Sacred, not secret

  18. your food allergy is fake says:

    My vote for the worst I’ve heard in mormonism:
    “It is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than to do the wrong thing for any reason at all.”

  19. it's a series of tubes says:

    “Come along and [read a script] from the [BOM]” – Cypress Hill

  20. John Mansfield says:

    “All are alike unto God.”—Joanna Brooks et al. distilling the Book of Mormon down to a verse fragment

  21. From the OP: To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.

    This is what I see current Mormonism full of, and I find it tragic. Our people are so taken with “theological twinkies” and faith-promoting rumors. These buttress their faith because they confirm their political priors and don’t challenge them to view things differently, or themselves as being in the wrong.

  22. “Do you want gross or net blessings with that?”

  23. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    “If it weren’t for _____________, I wouldn’t be here today.”

    Just always seems to mean more to the speaker than the listener.

    Also, by virtue of having been played in 90% of North American cultural halls:

    “And if I haver, hey, I know I’m gonna be
    I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you.”

  24. Clark Goble says:

    “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

    Not a fan in the least of Campbell who tends to really distort his source material to fit the patterns he’s looking for. Think of a Book of Mormon doubter’s critique of Nibley on steroids. That said, this quote is just a paraphrase of Socrates famous statement in the Apology (23b). The idea being that he is wisest who knows that he does not know. Whether that’s profound or not depends upon your view of epistemology I suppose.

    To your larger point, I’m not sure I’d call those deepities. (A term I must confess I’d not heard before) For instance the “hard but worth it” idea is pretty much wrapped up in the idea of the plan of salvation and the general approach to an answer to the problem of evil in Mormon theodicies. I’m surprised so many don’t like it.

    Whether statements have to be profound or not I can’t say. I tend to think religion in terms of practice is fairly simple. It’s trying to make it complex and profound that’s usually the problem. The usual issue is people want it to be complex and discount simple statements which actually do get at the basics of religion. (IMO)

  25. Clark,

    “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worthy it” is a direct contradiction of what the Savior actually said: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. But which one are you more likely to see cross stitched and hanging on a member’s wall (usually in the bathroom)?

  26. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve seen both. I think they are dealing with two different issues btw. But if you call the one a deepity, aren’t you more or less calling the other one a deepity as well? They’re pretty similar just inversions of each other.

    And of course, the person who said his yoke is easy and burden light also said that he wanted the cup to pass from him, yet he’d do his fathers will. (Matt 26:39) So I think at a minimum these quotes are more complicated than they first appear. (The exact opposite of a deepity wherein there’s less there than meets the eye)

    The obvious rejoinder to all this is to ask whether life is easy and without trials. Anyone who thinks it is will undoubtedly reject the Mormonad type poster. (grin) I think the reason it’s popular is because we all recognize life isn’t easy. The reason we also simultaneously recognize Jesus’ statement about the yoke being easy is because choosing God is easy and not really a burden when you think about it. It doesn’t mean there won’t be trials but that making that change of spirit really does improve ones life. Maybe the trials remain but how we deal with them is quite different.

  27. Clark Goble says:

    Just to add, the Mormonad like statement is pretty similar to 1 Peter 4.

    Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

  28. One is true and one is catchy.

  29. Martin James says:

    I know the cause of free will.

  30. Bendownthere says:

    Geez, give people a break. Like Karl Popper said, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.” Isn’t it at least possible that all the Mormon aphorisms you find insufficiantly deep are in fact misunderstood by you?

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