Living in the Absence of God

A couple of Gallup polls caught my eye this week. The first has gotten a bit of attention in the press, while the second barely any at all.

The first poll reports that 81% of Americans say they believe in God. That sounds like a lot, but the headline is that 81% is a 6% drop since 2017, when 87% of Americans said they believe in God. When Gallup first started asking that question back in the 1940s, the number was consistently 98%. It started declining in the 2010s, and 81% represents the lowest percentage of Americans to answer in favor of God’s existence since polling on the question began. There’s been a lot of noise over the political differences in belief in God. Those who believe in God according to political affiliation are as such: Democrats 72%, Republicans 92%, liberals 62%, and conservatives 94%. There are also age and regional comparisons, but you can go to the article for those.

More important than whether someone believes in God is whether someone believes that God is meaningful in their lives, whether he hears our prayers and can intervene with His grace. The poll found that nearly three-quarters of those who attend religious services weekly believe that God hears prayers and can intervene in our lives. Unsurprisingly, the percentages are lower for other groups. There’s not much point in believing in God if you don’t believe He cares about us!

A second Gallup poll hasn’t received near as much attention in the press, though it also represents a record-setting result. Fully 50% of Americans, the highest ever recorded, think that the state of morals in America is “poor.” Another 37% rate the state of morals as only “fair,” while only 12% rate the state of morals as “good” and a nearly non-existent 1% rate it as “excellent.” As with belief in God, there are differences among political groups, ages, and regions. But suffice it to say that nobody is very positive or optimistic about the moral state of affairs in America right now. There are no groups whose rating of “good” or “excellent” combined even reaches 20%.

It would be easy to make a connection between these two polls: the record high in rating as poor the state of morals in America being linked to the record low in belief in God. I don’t dismiss that connection at all, at least not as out-of-hand as I’m sure an atheist would. What concerns me more is the number of people who say they believe in God, yet also claim that He doesn’t hear our prayers and doesn’t intervene in our lives. Now, I’m not an advocate of the “No true Scotsman” argument. There are plenty of religious people who, at least in public, appear to be genuine in their faith, yet still commit moral horrors. There always have been. It’s not unusual for those stories to get mention in the press, as a sort of “man bites dog” event. Even still, their numbers don’t compare to those who reject God and His influence in our lives who commit moral horrors. So, what really concerns me is the number of people living a world where God is of no consideration at all, where He is utterly absent. If you look into the lives of those who have been shooting up schools, for instance, or who have committed mass shootings, very rarely do you find a perpetrator who reports a strong commitment to faith in God or even involvement in a faith community. Often, it’s just the opposite, those factors being absent in their lives. The claim made by some that “Christian nationalism” is responsible for an increase in shootings is absurd and based on no evidence whatsoever, other than the wishful thinking of those who make the claim. The great majority of mass killers over the previous two decades or more appear to have little to no religious sentiments, at least at the time of their crimes. They have not been committed Christians, or committed believers of any stripe. They have not even been committed atheists, who at least consider the question of God. No, the great majority are of those for whom any consideration of God or participation in a faith community has been absent.

This is the problem: not so much people who reject God utterly and are actively atheist (their numbers are no greater than Christians among mass killers), but the utter lack of God, the absence of God, or thinking of or mulling the question of God, that is common in the lives of the great majority of those who commit such horrible crimes. This is not to say that those who are actively hostile to the Church are not responsible for moral atrocities. They’re numbers are many throughout history, and we’ve certainly seen an increase in attacks on the Church recently. But most atheists don’t have the intent or the energy for such activities. It’s when atheism takes a turn toward activism, especially political activism, that things get problematic and often violent. That’s not as great a problem here in the U. S. as it is in other countries, such as China. The bigger problem here are the numbers of those who are raised in the absence of God, in the absence of little moral bearing. Put simply, if one is truly convinced that he or she will be held accountable for their actions, even if only by God rather than man, then that can give pause when one considers how to act toward others. There is also the matter of hope. Those who are raised in the absence of God have little reason to hope or trust that God cares when life gets difficult and confusing. And it always does.

We live in an increasingly secular culture. By that, I don’t mean a culture that is hostile to God. That has its dangers, of course, especially if that hostility turns political, as it sometimes does in the U. S. What I mean is that we have a culture that simply dismisses God, gives Him no consideration whatsoever. So many of our children are raised in homes and in neighborhoods and in surrounding environments where God is absent, and even the question of God’s existence and the role He plays in our lives is never brought up. This is where so much moral depravity and violence is rooted. Until we create a culture where God permeates the atmosphere of every nook and cranny of our country, we will continue to have to deal with tragedies such as mass shootings and school shootings. There may be policies we can adopt to help mitigate the carnage. But there is no other answer.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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