July 25, 1997


The average unbeliever simply does not care a damn. Religion amuses him faintly, as any other superstition amuses him, but it does not excite him. The number of such indifferent persons is much larger than is commonly assumed. They are not organized, and hence make no public pother, but they exist in immense hordes.

H.L. Mencken,1956

It should be obvious from the above quote, that you aren't reading the wrong column. This is not the Clergy Corner. I have finally decided to tackle a subject that most writers -Mencken excepted- avoid: God and religion.

We are led to believe that most people in the world believe in God. Is it true? Or, as H.L. Mencken says, the number of unbelievers is far greater than is generally supposed. To check this out, I turn to my trusty World Almanac. I added up the number of members of all religious groups. This value is probably a high one since, I suspect, that the estimates made by various religious denominations are inflated. I found out that roughly half of the people in this country are members of a religious denomination. Or, put another way, half of the people in this country are not members of a religious denomination.

What about those 130 million people who are not members of an organized religion? I suspect that most of these people consider God, religion and churches as being irrelevant to their lives. Whether or not they believe in God, many don't believe that if they are not a member of a church, that they are, in some way doomed. In short, they consider religion as relevant to their lives as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and a variety of myths that fill the world.

A large number of people are fairly certain that there is not a benevolent deity that cares what happen to people. If there is a God, there seems little doubt that he/she allows children to die and people to kill each other. As a philosopher, whose name I can't recall, put it: If God is benevolent, he is not omnipotent; if he is omnipotent, he is not benevolent. If God exists at all, he is impotent in terms of being able to influence human affairs.

Even for some church goers, God and theology are of relatively little importance. For them, going to church is something that they do on The Sabbath. It, along with saying grace at mealtime, is what their parents did and their parents parents did. It makes them feel that they are united and, in some way, more of a family. Going to church and singing is more uplifting than cheering for the home team at a ball game. It alleviates the loneliness that we are all party to.

If half of the people are not members of a church, why do we have the impression that most people are religious. One reason is that God always gets a good press. Besides God having Opra's enthusiastic support, whenever there is a disaster and many people are killed, there is always a survivor on television who says, "The Lord saved my life."

The ones who die never say a word.

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