Despite what the band Creed might have you think, there is nothing cool about God. There is nothing cool about Creed either but that is another discussion entirely. The notion of having faith doesn’t call to mind skinny jeans, beard oil, single origin coffee or anything that would even remotely be viewed as hip, stylish or worthy of admiration. If you are down with G.O.D, chances are, you aren’t going to advertise this part of your inner self if you are at all invested in being seen as relevant or sane. Sorry Pentecostals, I’m just preaching the truth.
But why is this? We live in a country that seems to put a lot of value on individualism—thinking for yourself, asking questions, non-conforming— yet we have set boundaries around what is okay and not okay to be individual about. Having pink hair and tattoos is seen as being edgy and rebellious yet it is within the approved realm of what is accepted as edgy and rebellious. According to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal, 40% of Americans have tattoos—nearly half the population—yet being covered in ink is still seen by the collective consciousness as being kinda ballsy. However, 37% of Americans identify as being Jehovah’s Witness yet the only thing we consider ballsy about this is actually admitting it (and then knocking on our front door to tell us about it).
Part of the problem is the lack of clarity around the difference between believing in God and being religious. As a member of a 12-step program, I am regularly reminded of that fact that people assume a group is religious just because they utter the word “God.” And I must say, this general disdain for organized religion is not unfounded. Many of us were raised with religion and have since abandoned or rejected it because of the myriad political problems that seem to be grounded in conflicting religious beliefs. It’s hard to feel good about worship when you hear about what is going on in Iraq, Israel and Nigeria. How can we be expected to affiliate ourselves with something that is opposed to important rights like gay marriage, birth control and abortion? Plus, let’s face it, being religious usually involves having to show up somewhere on the weekends and that’s just a little too much to ask of most Americans.
For all of these reasons, being religious in this country is seen as a signpost of being old, out of touch or fresh out of prison. As Americans slowly but steadily decline to affiliate themselves with a specific religion, it could be argued that the concept of believing in God has been lumped in with being religious and therefore become collateral damage. So I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two.
According to Wikipedia, belief is defined as the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case (in this case, God), with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that it’s true with factual certainty. Religion is defined as an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. So while you must have beliefs in order to be a part of a religion, you don’t need to be a part of a religion to have beliefs. Are we clear on that? Okay, moving on.
So what is interesting is that even though being a God person has become unpopular in the mainstream, statistics still show the majority of people in this country consider themselves spiritual. In 2013, the Harris Poll found that 74% of Americans admitted to believing in God and according to Pew Research, only 2.4% identify as being atheists—which is belief that there definitely is no God. The remaining 20% or so consider themselves agnostic, which is to say they hold the belief that nothing is known or can be known of the existence of God. So even though it may seem like our God consciousness has gone to hell in the last 60 years, there is actually only a very small percentage of us who are willing to admit that they don’t believe in God (or more accurately, that they believe wholeheartedly that there is no God). The rest of us either believe in God or feel like we can’t say either way.
In pop culture, we might show respect for religion if we’re being forced to address it, but in no way do we embrace religion. Surveys show that 77% of Americans identify as being Christian yet our media stream promotes a consistent feed of storylines, images and messages that are in direct opposition with Christian values. However, contrary to popular belief—and what Joel Olsteen might have you think— this phenomenon doesn’t appear to be a result of a lack of belief in God. It seems to have much more to due with our disconnect between religion, personal faith and what makes us want to buy a burger at Carl’s Jr.
While more than two-thirds of our country’s population might believe in God, it doesn’t mean anything unless we assign some kind of value to God. For instance, I might believe that saturated fat is bad for me but unless I understand why it’s bad, what foods contain it and what I might be putting myself at risk for by consuming it, the belief that it is bad doesn’t really do anything for me. It’s just a floating idea based on things I have heard and my choice to look at these sources as credible. It probably isn’t going to do much in terms of helping me avoid heart disease.
So the question is, do you believe in God or a Higher Power, and if so, what does that mean for you? What powers have you assigned to your God and how can these abilities help you in your life?
If there is anything less cool than believing in God, it’s admitting you have faith in God. Unless you are part of a small community of like-minded people, it’s a pretty severe social faux pas to casually mention your love for God or Jesus at a party, in the break room or on a first date (with the exception of ChristianMingle.com). Maybe Jesus is a bad example since his name draws a direct connection to Christianity. Perhaps it would be better to consider the awkwardness of passing a co-worker and saying, “You look bummed out, have you checked in with your Higher Power today?” However, it would be completely acceptable to walk by the same colleague and say, “You look tired, have you had your coffee today?” For whatever reason, admitting to having faith in God has fallen out of public favor and is looked at as weird and back-away-slowly worthy. But does that mean it isn’t helpful?
Much of the argument against being a God person is that there is no scientific evidence that God exists. This is 100% true. There is also no scientific evidence that my new Marc Jacobs bag had anything to do with the waiter at the Cheesecake Factory finally asking me out but this happened the day I first wore it. Could there be a connection? If there is, the only explanation is that carrying the bag made me feel more confident, which studies have shown help us appear more attractive to others. I suppose it could also mean the guy was a gold digger and happens to know couture. But I think the truth is in the former: my belief that I had more value because I was carrying a new handbag made me more confident and therefore more attractive to this waiter, whether he realized it or not.
Although there may be no scientific evidence that supports the existence of God, there is a lot of evidence supporting the placebo effect. So if we claim to be science people, and therefore unable to put any stock in the idea of some energy force (be it an old guy with a beard or the winds of mother nature) having an effect on our lives because there is no evidence that such nonsense exists, then how do we explain science’s stock in the placebo effect?
A poll was conducted in 2008 where 2,513 adults were asked about happiness in order to determine individual reasons for being happy or not happy. People who were religious were found to be significantly happier than people who didn’t identify as being religious. These people seemed to stress less about their health and their work. Is this connected to the fact that they show up to church every Sunday and wear a cross around their necks? My guess would be that the sense of community they get from their church or temple or their place of worship, as well as the feeling that they have a higher calling in life beyond answering phones at a paper company, mixed with the comfort that God is taking care of them and their loves ones, is what makes this a successful spiritual hat-trick.
If science tells us that not only is there value in believing in something that may not be true but this belief has such a powerful effect that it is used as a control in most scientific experiments conducted on humans, does it really matter if God exists? What if I told you that trusting in the power of God is essentially just trusting in the power of the human mind? Would that help?
Because, religious literals aside, I don’t think any spiritual person would have a problem with that concept. Sure, most of us don’t imagine our Higher Power this way because it’s too confusing to picture a power greater than ourselves as being ourselves, but if forced to break it down and explain why the God concept works for us, I don’t think any non-religious spiritual identifier much cares if God is real or an apparition, as long as it continues to be effective. The perks of having faith come out of the belief that God is watching over us and can and will help us with our problems. It’s no different than the feeling of safety we got from hiding under the covers as children (or as adults, if you’re still into that kind of thing). What we get is a placebo effect; it’s the placebo effect of God.
And scientifically speaking, this makes perfect sense.
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