Fascination With God
by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Joshua Straub
No matter what you hear on the news about lawsuits on prayer, court battles over the display of the Ten Commandments, nativity scenes, and the separation of church and state, there’s no denying the phenomenological existence of God. Consider that Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report have featured Jesus on the cover more than two dozen times in the past ten years alone. In addition, Jesus has graced the cover of Time magazine twenty-one times since World War II. Apart from the past few U.S. presidents, that’s more than any person in history.
What do the American people believe? A 2007 Newsweek poll found that 91 percent of American adults claim a belief in “God” of some sort, and 85 percent of Americans say that religion is important in their lives. Gallup’s latest study reports that 73 percent of Americans “are convinced that God exists.” Only 3 percent of the American population identifies itself as atheist, being “convinced God does not exist.” For the remaining 24 percent of Americans, the jury is still out.
What this “belief in God of some sort” means in the personal life of the average human being varies. For now, and despite what it may or may not mean, the point is that a phenomenon of God is pervasive. The evidence is found in individuals who are searching not only for who God is but also for their own purpose on this earth.
The fascination with God is also evident in the money we spend and the books we read. Take, for instance, the bestselling book of all time: the Bible. Since the original printing press in 1455, it is estimated that nearly 6 trillion Bibles have been sold in nearly 2,000 languages. Consider the preoccupation with such New York Times bestselling books as William Paul Young’s The Shack, described on Amazon as “a one of a kind invitation to journey to the very heart of God”; Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, a book that normalizes religious doubt but lays a case for belief in an age of skepticism; or Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, a forty-day daily devotional that helps readers find meaning in their spiritual journey. The Purpose-Driven Life is one of America’s bestselling nonfiction books of all time, according to Publisher’s Weekly. From the fictional side, even the Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s novels about the end times, written according to the book of Revelation, has become one of the bestselling adult fiction series of all time, having grossed more than 70 million copies sold as of 2009. C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a book originally recorded as a radio lecture series in Great Britain in 1943, has proved to be a timeless presentation of the principles of the Christian faith, as it remains a top seller even into the twenty-first century.
Another bestselling book that spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list was Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. If you want to see Christian authors and theologians scramble in defense for God, put out a fictional book that makes claims about Jesus the Bible does not support. Just a quick Amazon browse alone brought up fourteen books in response to The Da Vinci Code.
And what about the entertainment industry? In the first decade of the twenty-first century, The Da Vinci Code movie raked in over $757.2 million worldwide. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ brought in $604.3 million. And the $500,000 budget of the Christian movie Fireproof, a story about a firefighter who “fireproofs” his troubled marriage and turns his focus to God for direction, reaped dividends of more than $33.4 million at the box office. Good or bad, agreed or disagreed, thereÕs no denying the phenomenon of God throughout our culture.
But does a cultural fascination with God mean that he actually exists? If he does exist, how important is he in our daily lives? A survey on religious beliefs reveals a very interesting pattern of how important religion is in the day-to-day lives of people the world over. For instance, the median proportion of the world’s population who say that religion is important in their daily lives is 82 percent. Americans fall behind in the 2009 Gallup research with only 65 percent claiming religion is important to them on a daily basis.
But Gallup throws out a caveat: There is a strong relationship between the level of religiosity and a country’s standard of living. When Gallup surveyed the world’s population, they found eleven countries where nearly every dweller (98 percent) said that religion was important in their daily lives. Of those eleven, eight of them are poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Among the ten countries where residents were least likely to report religion being important in their daily lives were: Sweden (17 percent), Denmark (18 percent), Norway (20 percent), Hong Kong (22 percent), Japan (25 percent), and France (25 percent). All of these countries are Western and Asian democracies with the world’s highest standard of living.
In the twenty-seven countries known to make up the developed world, only 38 percent of the people on average say that religion is important in their daily lives. Compared to the other wealthy nations, if you will, the 65 percent of Americans who report an importance of religion make the United States look like a country of devoted converts ready to make a difference. Or are they?
Copyright © 2010 by Tim Clinton & Joshua Straub. From God Attachment, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.