That Was a Dumb Song: One of Us

Ever since I first heard it back in 1995 I hated the song ”One of Us” as popularized by Joan Osborne. The song is by an American singer, released in America, and made the America Top 40 Billboard. Clearly this song is targeted at an American audience. Most of this critique will be based on that fact, but I’m going to go into some other ideas as well.

Before I get into things, let me say that, despite what some people may say, America is not a Christian nation. The founding fathers weren’t necessarily Christian. It is a nation of free choice when it comes to religion. Even so, there are a lot of Christians in America. Let’s break apart the song.

If God had a name, what would it be?

Well, there are a lot of answers to this question. If you subscribe to Christianity as I mentioned, it’s Jesus. If you subscribe to Islam it’s Allah. For the Hindus it’s Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti and a host of other names. So basically the singer is asking a question that’s almost impossible to answer. It’s a ridiculous question. There are so many possible names for God that the question is moot. Okay, I’m kidding a little bit here. Obviously it’s a question to provoke some thought. Which it does, and that’s fine.

And would you call it to his face, If you were faced with Him in all His glory?

Again, this one depends on what religion you subscribe to. For Christians, the answer is no. You refer to him as Lord.

What would you ask if you had just one question?

Nothing wrong with this question. It’s not really a particularly profound question, though. If we go back to the example of Christianity, God is open to many questions. You can ask them through prayer. I’m guessing that other religions also have techniques to commune with deity, and also methods to receive answers, such as meditation and scripture.

Okay, so I’ve actually just been picking at straws here. None of that really even bothers me about the song. These are perfectly fine questions to meditate on. In fact I have respect for anyone that has meditated upon such questions. The part of the song that actually bothers me is the chorus:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?

To really explain why I dislike these lines let me explain a few things. You really can’t argue that the religion that the song is targeted at is Christianity. There are numerous references to the Pope, “Saints”, a term used in reference to the followers of Christ is used, and Jesus himself is mentioned. Basically there’s little room to claim that this song’s intended audience is agnostic, atheist, or some non-Christian audience. What I’m trying to get at is that as far as Christianity is concerned, God was once one of us. His name was Jesus. He lived from around 7-2 B.C.E. to 30-33 C.E., was crucified, rose the third day, then returned to his throne in heaven. So in answer to the question, “What if God was one of us?” Read the New Testament if you want to know what it was like for God to be one of us from the Christian perspective.

I admit that maybe the singer is merely asking from the point of view of someone who refuses to accept Christianity. But, Christianity is not even the only religion that believes that God was one of us. Hinduism claims that the Gods have manifest themselves many times as people, Krishna being one of the more prevalent incarnations. Once again, the question being asked is moot. It has many answers.

Okay. I want to admit one thing. That doesn’t even really bother me. I think it is perfectly fine to pose such questions in song. It’s really the second line that makes me hate the whole song, ”Just a slob like one of us?” This line implies that if God was here he would be a slob. Frankly, I don’t think he would be. But even that’s not what bothers me. It’s actually that the song says ”a slob like one of us”. This song is accusing ”me” of being a slob, and honestly, ”I’m” not a slob, and that’s why it’s a dumb song.