Paul Greenberg

It was only a matter of time in this Age of the Poll that some mastermind at a political headquarters would decide to ask the almighty American public to pass judgment on God along with more temporal rulers.

Given the temper of the times, it does not surprise that such a poll was undertaken by Public Policy Polling, a long-time part of the Democrats' national political network. Those polled were asked whether, "if God exists," they approve of "its performance."

Its performance?

The pronoun was chosen, we're told by the pollsters, "because not everyone who believes in God believes God to be male."

Once again some learned, literal-minded fool has confused gender with sex, a grammatical usage with a biological description. The result is not only the usual confusion but, in this case, sacrilege as well. As if those who speak of the Deity as He, or the Lord, or Our Father Our King, or even First Cause Uncaused were visualizing some corporeal being and must be corrected.

The writers of gender-free modern prayerbooks commit the same error -- a failure of imagination -- and the result is poetry-free Scripture.

All of this is done in the name of not offending, when of course it offends all who still have some minimal sensitivity -- not just religious sensitivity but the artistic and linguistic kind. One needn't be a believer to show respect for the beliefs of others.

How sophisticated, to poll the public on God's performance. What, no focus groups to discuss how He might improve his job performance? Maybe if He tried different packaging or started a Facebook page, his ratings might go up....

The Almighty was doubtless pleased to learn that a majority of the respondents, if only a bare majority of them (52 percent), approved of the job He was doing in those matters that fall under His jurisdiction, which, according to the pollsters, include natural disasters and animals. He got particularly high marks for having created the universe. And came in well ahead of the president and Congress.

Reading about these straight-faced poll results, reported deadpan in our sprawling media, which replaced the mere press some time ago, I could only think: Oh, Gawd!

What next? In the spirit of old Job, patron saint of the plaintiffs' bar, will We the Polled People bring suit against the Lord God for his alleged lapses?

Wasn't there a time when what mattered was not what his creatures thought of the Creator but what He thought of us? But the science, art and general mumbo-jumbo of polling doesn't seem to have polled Him on that little matter.

The most hopeful thing about the prospects for religious faith in this modern, increasingly secular society is that it retains the power to incense its critics. Today's flood of atheist polemics testifies to faith's continued ability to inspire, even if only to inspire attacks. Atheist books, articles, pamphlets and general outpourings continue to appear in profusion. Their quality may range from the thoughtful to the just snide, but their quantity is impressive.

It's as if atheism had inherited the passion that the religious once had. But so long as religion can evoke so spirited a reaction, it is not yet a spent force.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.