God's involvement


An article was published on Yahoo's website today about a survey on American religious attitudes. The article begins by stating that "most Americans believe God is involved in their everyday lives and concerned with their personal well-being."

Four highlights were mentioned in the study:

  • 82 percent of participants reported that they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions.
  • 71 percent said they believe that when good or bad things happen, these occurrences are simply part of God's plan for them.
  • 61 percent indicated they believe God has determined the direction and course of their lives.
  • 32 percent agreed with the statement: "There is no sense in planning a lot because ultimately my fate is in God's hands."
Of those four, I would categorically disagree with the last three, since all of them presuppose not just that God intervenes omnipotently in the world, but that God does so in such an overwhelmingly pervasive fashion that there is no room whatsoever for free will.

The first one, though, is more interesting. Maybe it is the old Quaker mystic in me, or maybe it is the influence of process theology in my thinking, but in any case, even as I reject the idea of divine omnipotence, the idea that the Divine is in some sense "speaking" to us is not a concept that I have a problem with. I think that many people, when they describe divine intervention, may tend to conflate omnipotent coercion with divine communication and describe both of those as "divine intervention". But in my view, they are quite different activities. "Speaking" to us, or offering us possibilities, or luring us towards greater creative and loving possibilities--that represents one way of describing the expression of divine activity in the world. But to say that God is actively involved in the world is not the same as saying that God coercively intervenes, or has some "plan" that ensures that everything will work out a certain way. The former describes the creative and open-ended potential of the universe; the latter describes an omnipotent force that controls the universe. I lean towards the first; I do not accept the idea of the latter.


Anonymous said...

I find it nearly impossible to believe that 82% of Americans depend on God for guidance in any sense that involves listening to what God might have to say. Based on those I know and observe, the more likely explanation is that 72% of Americans assume that whatever they believe is what God believes and so they are good - plus God found them a parking place at the multiplex.

Mystical Seeker said...

Ha! You have point, Scott.

Don't forget God's role in the outcome of sporting events. :)

Cynthia said...

Makes me wonder if any one of those respondents has ever heard a 'judging' word from God about their choices, decisions, etc. What about 'the plan' then? God used to speak through something called compunction.

Mystical Seeker said...

Good question, Cynthia, and my guess the answer is probably no. Using God as a useful way of approving of what we do is no doubt a very common phenomenon. Finding religion as an inspiration to become better people and to recognize where we have been wrong--well, that's another story.

Then again, there is the judgmental usefulness of God that gives us sanction to judge other people.

Cynthia said...

Doh! THAT'S where it comes in.

CT said...

Very interesting stats.
Religion in Australia's media often refers to the extent of Religious belief in the USA.

We've got Dawkins over here currently - mainly stirring up a lot of anti-religious feeling and getting a lot of media space.


He makes you wonder why he feels the need to travel the world in the name of anti-religion. In Australia someone's religion or lack thereof is usually not reported. But just last week we had an article on 3 confirmed atheist politicians. Who cares ? Religious belief , sexuality, race, annual salary, etc - arent they all irrelevant for holding public office ? Or for holding any job ?
Not when Dawkins comes around trying to promote our differences over our similarities.
(Sorry - I've gone off topic)

David Henson said...

That's a really great distinction -- the difference between divine communication and divine intervention.

Because I definitely think God communicates (sometimes with contradictory messages, too, I'd argue ... or at least hope!), but divine intervention makes me a little wary and makes God a little capricious.

Sabio Lantz said...

I agree, an intervening cat god is not my favorite image, if I have god-like belief in me, it is more for the monkey god. (See my short post on these two -- maybe you have heard of them).