Why Joan Osborne’s “(What if God Was) One of Us” is a Stupid Song

Fourteen years later, I get around to taking Joan Osborne to task about her crappy hit single, “One of Us.”

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Lookah mah jowls!

Joan Osborne is a moron, as is evidenced by her song, “One of Us,” or, as you may call it “What if God Was One of Us.” Now, this song came out in 1995 and was written by Eric Bazilian a band member of “The Hooters” who, obviously, is from the country Bazil, and, in actuality, attended the same high school as my brother and my senior-year girlfriend, not that anybody cares. This is as much a critique on his lyrics as Joan Osborne’s decision to do the song in the first place. But, because she had final creative control, I am going to direct all comments at her, with, perhaps, a couple asides to Eric. Finally, although I am a militant atheist, I am going to put the whole “God doesn’t exist” argument aside just to show that I’m being impartial. And yes, I realize that I am about fourteen years late on this one. So, let’s do some new asshole tearing, shall we? We’ll go lyric by lyric.

The Verses

If God had a name what would it be?

Now, I’m no bible expert, but God does have a name. In Judaism, “he” goes by Yahweh, which is based on the tetragrammaton, YHWH. In Christianity, it’s He, The Lord, God, Jehovah, The Light, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lord of the Hosts, Ancient of Days, Father, El-Shaddai, etc. And, of course in Islam, it’s everyone’s favorite name—Allah. Even though people (except for Muslims) don’t say this shit out loud most of the time, it’s still there. Do your research, Osborne. Oh, and if God didn’t have a name and he were to be assigned one, I think everyone can agree that it would be “Larry.”

And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory

Now, this lyric is contrary to much of the rest of the song. If god “was” one of us, there wouldn’t be much glory associated with him, now would there be? Along this same line of thinking, you would call him by his name to his face, because that’s the polite thing to do, unless you want to call him Sir, or Sergeant, or Your Excellency, or The Artist Formerly Known as Yahweh. Otherwise, you would just call him Larry. For instance, the following vignette:

Larry: Hey, Evan. I’m an immortal being with absolute control over the universe and everything beyond.

Evan: That’s great, Larry. Do you have any gum?

What would you ask if you had just one question?

I believe I just answered this one. “Do you have any gum?” would be the answer to that question. Of course, this lyric isn’t without its own difficulties. The main critique is as follows: Joan (and Eric), you were talking about God having a name and whether or not you would use it. What does that have to do with what question you would ask him besides something like “How do you spell your name?” or “What kind of stupid name is Larry?” Otherwise, any other non-name-related questions you may ask are beyond the scope of these lyrics. Get with the program, Joan (Eric).

*And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

These lyrics are fine and I don’t have any real issue with them, except that they are meaningless. Are they saying “Yeah, God is great, but…”? Or, are they saying, “Yeah, God is great”? It’s hard to do sarcasm in a song. Or in a blog post. Watch.

It’s so easy to be sarcastic in a blog.

See how sarcastic I just was?

For now, I am going to skip the chorus in lieu of the second verse, because the chorus is what I take the most issue with.

If God had a face what would it look like?

Clearly Joan (or Eric) are not aware of the old-man-white-beard model of God. To answer the question, most likely it would look like Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White. See below.

I'm Gandalf. Who the fuck are you?

And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets (*)

Here, I’m not sure what Joan is positing. Does believing in “things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints” mean that one is a Catholic? Is she asking that would you want to see God’s face if you had to be Catholic? This is a fairly intolerant view of religion and Christianity. Most likely, she means that you would have to believe in God himself. And therefore, it is a flawed question. For, if you can see his face, he therefore exists, and thus do “things like heaven and Jesus… and the saints,” at least whatever their equivalents are in whichever religion would be the correct one in this scenario. So, not only would seeing his face require you to believe in these things, the act of seeing would make you believe in these things. It’s not really a trade off. I say, if you show me God, I’ll believe in him, but not until you show me. Don’t try to get me to sign up for Catholicism first, because I know that trick. That’s how I became a Scientologist. And I’m already a Jew!

The Chorus!

What if God was one of us?

Two problems with this sentence. First of all, if God “was” one of us, then he wouldn’t be God. You see, the definition of God, or a god, is a supreme being, a creator of the universe and humanity, a lord of all that exists, existed, or will exist, or something to that effect. Even Jesus, the fictional human who came closest in Christianity to being God besides God himself, certainly wasn’t “one of us.” In fact, it was precisely for that reason, that he so wasn’t “one of us,” that we crucified his ass. This is a fundamental problem with this song. You could do the same thing with replacing the nouns and seeing the problem with the “What if ___ ‘was’ ___” construct. For instance, if I replace “God” with “sugar” and “one of us” with “Splenda,” you would get “What if sugar was Splenda?” The problem is obvious. If sugar is Splenda, then it’s Splenda, and there’s no more to say about it. You can’t even refer to the sugar as sugar anymore, because sugar is, by definition, Splenda.  But, of course, sugar is not Splenda. Splenda is much sweeter and has fewer calories. This problem undoes the entire song, it’s so resoundingly obvious. The question “What if God was one of us” just doesn’t make any sense to even ask. It’s just stupid.

The second problem with this sentence is the big, glaring, “was.” This sentence is in the subjunctive mood, and therefore, a “were” will follow the “if.” “What if God were one of us?” Now, I’m not saying that everyone’s grammar should be perfect, and slang is common in songwriting, but this is just an ignorant error that has been perpetuated endlessly. Joan should re-record the song, and then, of course, destroy the re-recording and kill herself.

Just a slob like one of us

You are assuming that I am a slob. For me, this assumption is correct; I am a slob, and I only shower because society demands it. But not all the people who listen to this song are slobs. I’m sure that many very neat, very organized people have listened to this song, and would be offended that you are lumping all humans together as slobs. Very sloppy, Joan. Very sloppy indeed.

Just a stranger on a bus
Trying to make his way home
Trying to make his way home

First of all, if most people in this country have cars, and so God would probably be driving in his ’92 Honda Civic or something. Second of all, this just begs the question. If this guy were God and a human, he could just teleport, right?

Back up to heaven all alone

Okay, if God was one of us, why is he going to heaven? I take “one of us” to mean living people who reside in things like houses, not in concepts like Heaven. So if God was one of us, he’d probably have a house, don’t you think?

Nobody calling on the phone

So this presumes that not only is God one of us, but he is a total loser. Not that my phone is ringing off the hook, but most people have other people who call them.

‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

There is a huge error in this sentence. First of all, I say again, if God were “one of us,” he probably wouldn’t be getting the Pope booty-calls. You know why? Because the Pope doesn’t fucking call slobs. Second of all, you, Joan (and Eric) have misplaced the “maybe.” She probably meant “‘cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome,” but that still leaves a slightly ambiguous sentence and besides, she definitely doesn’t sing the commas. The way it reads now is that the Pope will definitely call, and he may or may not be in Rome. You meant to say “’cept maybe for the Pope in Rome.” Because that means nobody’s calling, except, perhaps, for the Pope, who may or may not be calling. And, in this less nonsensical way, why do we need the “in Rome” part? It doesn’t fucking matter where the Pope is as long as he’s calling!

What up, G? It's me, the P.

Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

The part I haven’t addressed about this song is that it pretty much sucks, even without the incredibly stupid and faux-profound lyrics. The notes just sound bad. So does Osborne’s voice. This song needs to be wiped from the memory of humanity to make way for newer, stupider songs, like “Empire State of Mind.”

I rest my case.