The God Survey: What Do You Believe?
Does God exist? What does God do or not do? Last Yom Kippur, Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro sent a survey to his congregants at Sinai Temple in Springfield, Mass., to find out what they believe – and the results surprised him. In this summer’s issue of Reform Judaism magazine, Rabbi Shapiro summarizes his findings, and we ask Reform Jews across North America to participate in a similar survey. More than 1,800 people have already responded, and counting!
Rabbi Shapiro writes, in part:
I am particularly struck by the finding that the largest percentage of congregants—74.6%—identified God as “hope,” followed by “Healing the sick is Godly” (73%), “Feeding the hungry is Godly” (71.5%), and “God is love” (71.3%). This is not theology as usual—not the traditional God of our prayerbook, who is usually described as Melech/Ruler of the Universe and spoken to as Atta/You in every blessing. Most of my congregants do not construe God as a celestial figure who acts in this world. For them, God is a presence or power. For them, God is not so much “above” us in heaven as God is “beside” us or “within” us. Most believe that God “acts” when we act with God’s attributes, such as love, kindness, and justice.
I find it significant that this metaphor of God as hope or love is largely absent from Reform liturgy. No wonder that some people feel disenfranchised coming to services where the prevailing God metaphor is Melech or Ruler. Broadening the vocabulary of worship to include new God language for the majority of my congregants may be my next step as a rabbi.
In our (mostly multiple-choice) survey, Reform Judaism magazine asks questions like: When do you wonder about God? How often do you have question about God? When do you feel close to or distant from God? And then there’s the open-ended question: “If God was accepting questions, I would want to ask God the following question(s).”
Check out Reform Judaism magazine’s God Survey and answer for yourself. Findings will be detailed in a future issue of the publication and summarized here. Spread the word!