Midway through the history of language unit in the Media and Communication Studies class in an international college in Vancouver, Canada, a student from Saudi Arabia asked the instructor whether the existence of the word “God,” which has been in use for a long time, did not serve as reliable evidence that God existed. The instructor, who had been at pains to convey to students the idea that reality was often, especially in the age of electronic mass media, produced by communication, said the word alone, no matter how long it had been in use, was not evidence that God existed.
Why do you say that? asked the student from Saudi Arabia. I say it, said the instructor, because I don’t trust the word “God.” Well, what about the word “soul,” said the student from Saudi Arabia, after a pause. Do you trust the word “soul”? Yes, sometimes I trust and therefore believe in this word, but there are times when I don’t, said the instructor.
So is life a matter of trusting and believing, or not trusting and disbelieving words? asked the student from Saudi Arabia. It is a matter of describing emotions, said the instructor of the Media and Communication Studies class: I can sometimes feel, in my body, a sensation that suggests the word soul. Often, I think of this sensation in more literal ways: I think of it as an event taking place in my heart, for example, which is how people in the past, when they spoke about God, often described His possible whereabouts and doings.
Yes, said the student from Saudi Arabia, I can understand what you are saying. I feel this sensation in my heart as well, but I see no reason not to call it God. Why will you not call it by this name? Because, said the instructor of the Media and Communication class, too many people in my past used this word, “God,” in a way that didn’t make sense to me because it didn’t describe the sensations my heart—which may or may not have something to do with my soul—experienced when I was talking with them. And so I started to distrust that word.
Yes, said the student from Saudi Arabia, I understand this. What words do you use now to describe these sensations that come from the heart and might have something to do with your soul, and which serve as evidence—I’m just thinking about this now as we speak—that such a thing as the soul, although maybe not God, exists? I use, said the Media and Communications instructor, the words “love,” or even “desire,” or I use the word “strength,” or “sorrow,” or “pity,” or even “anger”—all these words exist and accurately describe sensations I experience, and so I believe in them. They are useful.
Yes, said the student from Saudi Arabia. And I experience the usefulness of the word “God.” So we might be brothers in this way of experiencing certain words as useful ways of producing reality. Yes, said the Media and Communications instructor, although I might not use the word “brothers” to describe our relationship. Which word would you use? said the student from Saudi Arabia. I might use the word “student,” said the Media and Communications instructor. We are both students of Communication.
Vancouver, May 3, 2013 (Reposted from Jan. 5, 2011)