The Overwhelming Majority of the World Believe in a Universal God or Spirit
According to the Pew Research group, 89% of American’s believe in God. We find God referenced by presidents from both parties frequently. They often close their speeches with God bless America. We find “In God We Trust” on our currency and the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Overwhelming majority of the world, 84% according to Pew Research group, believe in God or a universal spirit. Some people believe in monotheism, the idea that there is just one God that runs the whole world or even the entire universe while others believe in pantheism (that there are many gods). Gods can be anything from cows to trees, even living people. The pharaohs of Egypt were believed to be God incarnate or living gods.
Small Groups of People are atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular”
There is a small, growing, and very vocal group that does not identify with any religious group and refers to themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”.
God Needs a Better Definition
While I love to see research like the ones done by Pew Research and Gallup on religion, I think there is something that is misleading about the way God is defined. To make things easy for me to explain what I mean, let’s agree that God (spelled with an uppercase G) refers to a universal God or Spirit. That’s the kind of God that the overwhelming majority of the world believes in. Then I think there is a god, spelled with a lowercase g, which everybody subscribes to.
I think GOD (both the God and a god) is experienced by people very differently and an appropriate definition of God should come from an experiential point of view as well. I love the way the MacMillan Dictionary defines god. It says god is “something that someone thinks is very important and allows to control their life.” I think this god could be something (animate or inanimate) or someone (one or more people). In fact, one could be one’s, own god.
A person’s god is whatever drives their lives. It could be an ideology, a person, persons, a thing, things, anything at all. For example, Christians have a unique belief system. They believe in one God that is really three different persons with three different personalities but exists in perfect harmony as one. While at the surface that may look like Pantheism, Christian scholars will quickly dismiss that. To them, even though Christianity subscribes to a God who is composed of three persons, it isn’t a pantheistic religion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many other groups of believers in a God or universal spirit have very different views of their God. The one thing that is common among them is that their God drives their lives and their worldview.
The Right Framework will give us the right answer
If we define god or God in the most basic sense as, “Something that someone thinks is very important and allows to control their life”, then everybody has a God. Everybody’s life is driven by something. Again, that something can be a person, persons or things. People who call themselves atheists, agnostics, and others who say they adhere to “nothing in particular” often define themselves in relation to a universal God or spirit or an organized religion. I think that’s the wrong framework to define oneself. It’s like being asked who you are, and you respond by saying who you are not. The question that should be asked is not, “Do you believe in a universal God or spirit?”, but what “What drives your life?” “What controls your life?”. I think that’s a more helpful, less divisive, and better question to ask. It actually helps you know what is most important to people without judging or them or others. The right framework is one that focuses on what drives, moves, or causes a person to do what they do. It’s individual centered.
We know people who are motivated by their believe in God or god to do amazing good and impact the world. It doesn’t matter if one actually denies that they don’t have such a god. What really matters is what drives them, even if they choose not to call that animating drive or force a God.
We also know people who have been motivated by their believe in God or god to do tremendous evil. We know atheist, agnostics, and religious people who have been motivated by what drives them to do good and evil. We know people who have been motivated by money, power, and prestige to work just as hard to acquire it as others who are motivated by their sense of believe in God.
We also know If you were to ask a Christian the question, what drives her life, She will say something that links her to her God’s desires. The same is true for a Muslim or any other person of faith. If you ask an atheist or agnostic, “what drives your life?”. She won’t claim that being atheist means nothing drives her life. She will give you something that will help you understand and relate to her better.
Everybody has a God or god and a Religion
The Macmillan dictionary also defines religion as “an activity or aim that is extremely important to you.” An example sentence they give is, “As students, socialism was our religion”. Religion may be seen more as a system created around your God or god to facilitate following that God or god on a daily basis and also connecting and working with others that share the same views.
God Fights Divide Us, Not Unite Us
Often, it’s easy to think that Christians all believe the same thing. Some sources say there are over 30,000 different Christian denominations. Many of these believe something the others don’t believe. Many Christian denominations consider Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to be Christian cults (groups claiming to be Christian but denying one or more of the essentials of the Christian faith).
Many of these denominations think they have things just right to serve God better.
Muslims aren’t also one monolithic group. They have different branches, some of which are at war with each other.
If you look at the numerous religions and the differences within them, it helps you realize that people’s view of god is as unique as each human being is unique.
Atheists and agnostics aren’t monolithic groups either. Atheists and agnostics believe different beliefs and lead different lives.
Yet, atheists, agnostics, and organized religion are at war with each other. Every organized religion is at war internally with its different conflicting segments and externally with every other religion and atheism and agnosticism. The same is true in reverse.
Let’s Focus on What Drives Each of Us, Not what Divides us
If we realize that each of us is driven by something and stop demonizing each other but rather start valuing, respecting and understanding each other, the world will be a better place. This doesn’t mean that people won’t or shouldn’t share with others what they believe or even try to win them over to their way of thinking. It simply means that we will realize that we are no better than anyone else because of what we believe. What we believe today is in large part not because we are exceptional but rather largely by forces outside our own control. It doesn’t help to say every religious path leads to the same God because probably that may not be true. But it’s possible to say that every personally empowering belief system will help enhance the believer’s life. There are people who live a great life as Christians and others who live a great life as Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Hindus etc. Let each person live according to their beliefs, not demonize others, and always be open minded to learn from others what they believe.
It will be nice to have the world where people are judged on the basis of their character, not on the basis of their religion or lack thereof. It will be nice to have a world where a student can say to their evolutionary biology teacher that they are Christians or Muslims and not be viewed as stupid, foolish, or incapable of becoming great scientists because of their religious beliefs. It will be nice to have a world where atheists are respected by religious people for their choice not to believe in their version of God. Everybody has a God or god. We need to start humbly focusing on what drives each of us, not what divides us.