This thought grew out of a discussion in my class on Humanism.

Placeholders for the Ineffable.

We have an experience, an “incredible” experience, we’re awestruck, flabbergasted, “struck dumb” by the event.

The experience is essentially ineffable. . .indescribable.

What do we do?

Describe it.  Talk about it. The In-credible becomes Credible, at least in our mind.

So we put words on an experience that defies words.

Voila!  Religious experience!

The Exodus/Deuteronomy story of Moses on the mountain is the classic example.

Something happens (physically or psychologically) in the rarefied atmosphere of a mountaintop during a lightning storm (trees on fire!).  A voice is heard, by this one man seeking to hear a voice.

And the rest is Religious History. . .the History of Placeholders:







Each word standing for something that cannot be described.

Then. . .

“The Word became flesh. . .”

The Christian Story.

Which “word” and how can a word become human?

Was Jesus a placeholder for God?

Are humans the ultimate placeholders in these matters?

What do we stand for?  Do we represent something or someone?

Btw, this isn’t simply a problem with faith.

Secular people should also pay attention to our own placeholders:




In some sense, aren’t all words ultimately placeholders for something, or something we imagine or believe?

Maybe the answers to these questions are. . .


Categories: ReligionTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Hello Chris. I call these phenomena what linguists call this class of descriptors, IMAGINARY REFERRENTS. It started when someone thought they saw an ancestor at the foot foot of their tent shortly after they died, which is very common up to 40% reports such events within a few months of burying a loved one. These imaginary referents now are the center of all religious mystical and mysteries for millennia. If this did not exist we would not have logos, theos, poetry, science fiction and quantum physics, etc. They are the spice of life that some people worship. Philosophers has been trying to explain this class of descriptors as a profession and priests make a living by saying they can talk and represent us with these imaginary experiences. Not sure they will ever disappear unless we turn to AI for the universal cause and effect for everything that is in the universe.

  2. Chris, Your meditative reflection is almost like a poem in that with few powerful words it opens up countless questions, memories, and vivid experiences for me. Probably, that will happen for many others, too.

    About the only words I would add to your reflection (if I was writing it) would be “…aren’t all words ultimately placeholders for something, or something we [think or contemplate or intuit]…
    For instance, the most powerful wonder experience in my life was when I was working the graveyard shift at 7-11. I finished stocking beer in the walk-in fridge, putting cans on shelves (not an ideal time for a transcendent experience;-) and musing.
    Suddenly, “ineffable” happened! I didn’t try to imagine about what it might be, and, strangely, didn’t believe about it because the amazing event didn’t fit my Christian theological beliefs!

    I just posted your reflection to Facebook. There are so many different responses to Placeholders that are jumping within me to say.

    • Thanks for the response, Daniel. That’s quite a beer-cooler story. Probably a good thing that 7-11 didn’t set up a shrine in there!

      • Funny comment, reminds me of the thousands of religious shrines to visions or nail from Jesus or pieces of the cross, countless miracles, Buddha’s toe, Muhammad’s foot imprint, etc.

        Nor did I ever use the wonder event to try and persuade anybody to accept religious doctrine. I can be thankful for that.
        Also–if you remember from my previous comments–the only reason I identified as a liberal Christian for years was because I did that as a “placeholder” (though I didn’t use your term). I didn’t think that reality is meaningless, etc. like the claims of many famous non-Christian philiosophers and many non-Christians I knew personally.

        • Understood, Daniel. Our personal “labels” (or placeholders) rarely tell the whole story or present the entire picture of who we are or what we may or may not believe. Regarding some claims by non-believers, maybe it’s not that “reality is meaningless” but that the “meaning” many believers in the supernatural assign to reality doesn’t make any “real” sense. Wondering.

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