God Is the Central Issue

May 14, 2015

[Sorry for the delay . . . “Life” has been happening, and my days have been zooming! Yesterday it was getting a water leak fixed.]

The topic of God is popping up here and there, not only in my personal life but in our culture. My thoughts are sparked this week by the latest Pew Survey, which took the pulse of American religious practice, denominational affiliation, and basic beliefs. You can read the results of the survey here and here.

The attention-getters in this survey are the changes in the religious landscape since this survey was done previously in 2007. In a seven year period, from 2007 to 2014, the United States has experienced a drop in the number of Protestants and Catholics and an increased percentage of citizens who are the “Nones” (those with no affiliation or identify as agnostic or atheist). The total percentage of self-identified Christians has dropped from 78% to 71%. The percentage of the population who identify as “evangelical” has dropped by only 1%, from 26% to 25%.

While several of these numbers can be open to discussion as terms are defined, I would like to focus on the non-affiliated segment. In 2007, 16% of our population was not associated with a religious body, and of those 25% self-identified as agnostic or atheistic. In 2014, 23% are “nones” and of those, 31% do not believe in God. Doing the math, we discover that the percentage of our population that does not believe in God (I include agnostics and atheists in this category) has gone up by 50%, but the number of people has doubled in just seven years.

So, clearly, God is an issue for many people.

I am thankful that we live in a country where discussing doubts and disbeliefs is acceptable. I am glad that we do not espouse a state religion, which can obscure or color an honest discussion of personal belief. I am not a fan, however, of misinformed or emotional reactions based on factors that don’t have anything to do with God really but more with a person’s expectations in life and even, perhaps, at “church.” I feel that a discussion about God has to seek evidence and knowledge of truth—yes, including revealed truth—with the honest acknowledgment that faith is required along the way. I say this knowing that asserting “There is no God” requires just as much faith as the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” That means we have lots to talk about, and we have the freedom and power to do so.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1NIV), then it is expressed in how we anticipate the future and stand on invisible certainties. By addressing “faith” and “God,” we enter a realm worth talking about but one in which we must address our future and those things that are (currently) hidden from view. Even if one is an atheist, there is still an unknown future and aspects of life that are very real but invisible. And that’s why I claim that atheists and believers have faith in common. The question is, faith in what or in whom?

I submit that God—his existence, purpose, and power—is the issue for Americans today. Some, like those wishing to excise “God” from coins, courtrooms, or city property, make it a flashpoint issue so talking about God becomes socially unacceptable. Some, wishing to scrub American life clean of ethical/moral standards that are based on biblical principles, have an issue with authority, most especially the highest Authority, Almighty God. Many who have discarded God from their life (if that is possible) have done so because they cannot, for some reason, align themselves with God’s purposes. In particular, I know a few whose takes on “God’s purposes” are so far afield that I would have to join them in disbelief. Try responding to a person who declares, “I do not believe in God,” with “Tell me about the God you do not believe in; maybe I don’t believe in him either.” You are in for a fascinating conversation!

In my next few posts, I shall share some thoughts about God (reality, purpose, and power) and why I think reclaiming such beliefs is critical to our well-being as a people.


One Response to “God Is the Central Issue”

  1. Rev. Mary I think we should begin with Psalm 19, if God created the heavens and earth should we watch and listen each day?

    Maybe we can learn from Psal 139?

    Why did God give us the Bible?

    Why did Jesus come to earth? Has any other God come to us?

    Just thinking.

    Jim S
    Montrear, NC

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