What do we all really think of "god" today?
For six months I traveled across New York City interviewing over two hundred people in detail about what they thought of ‘god’. Not what they thought of religion, but their personal thoughts and relationship, if any, with whatever they considered god to be. People were chosen strictly according to the demographics of the last census to create an accurate statistical representation of the city today. Inspired by Studs Terkel's book Working, I collected together individual stories to create a holistic view of a city’s relationship with the divine. I set out with no direction and no theory to prove.
Why did I do this ?
I am a technology entrepreneur and investor, and I know nothing special about god. I struggle with faith, I don’t fit neatly into the doctrines of any single religion and have happily joined friends in all different faiths. But I do believe in a god, I reach out the best I can and having that as part of my life just makes me happy. Most of all I find the divine reflected in other people, so I figured if it’s the same god that touches us and is revealed within us all, maybe there’s some revelation in the crowd.
What’s in the Book?
The main body of the book will be made up of about 80 of the interviews presented as stories told in the voices of the people I interviewed, including audio clips in the ebook that let you hear them speak. Easy to dip in and out, collectively these short stories convey the city’s relationship with, rejection of, or ambivalence about, the divine. This isn't about celebrities or wacky cults; it’s about ordinary people, and is a genuine cross-section of the whole city. Among my favorites are an orthodox Jewish girl from the Bronx who talks about finding god in the mundane and an elderly Hispanic man, also from the Bronx, who struggles with his intellectual rationality.
People have different views of god, many don't believe in anything and are also compellingly erudite with their opinions. But regardless there are common themes that unite us all and the chapters are organized around life issues such as; growing up in a mixed faith family, bringing up kids, conversion, dealing with alcohol, facing death, etc. The book will finish with a short section, based on the statistical analysis, describing the different groups we would fall into if you ignored our religious tags and just looked at the nature of our belief, or not, in god(s).
What do people talk about?
- 26% described how their relationship with god benefited them right now
- 21% actively prayed but didn't go to any church or temple
- 20% said it’s all the same god, all one thing
17% had a life event that was key in their search or rejection of god
- 13% thought the stories and scriptures of religions were just fantasy
- 11% had undergone some conversion
Listen to some more of their voices....
This would appeal to you if you are:
- Curious: There are many surveys about what religious groups people belong to but none that really identify what people really believe. New York is the most famous city in the world, the most multi-cultural in the US and is probably a bellwether for where our beliefs are heading.
- Searching: If you are not immovably certain in all your beliefs but the question is something you consider then this is a different way of approaching the subject. It is not learned theology but an inspiring insight through other peoples eyes (and an easy read).
- Communicating: Maybe you also have teenagers in your life; nephews, nieces, godchildren or friends. Personally I don't feel I can dictate to them because; I don’t think that I am exclusively right, my faith is not static and what works for me may not be right for them. But I do want to tell them it’s worth thinking about, whatever conclusion they come to. So this is a light and non-prescriptive way to approach the subject (and it makes a good present).
What’s left to do and what's the money for ?
The hardest work was spending the six months travelling the city in my spare time talking to hundreds of people, and then a similar amount of time editing the interviews. What remains is some editing, and the hard work producing and formatting both the physical book and ebook.
I am doing this project for itself and not as a commercial venture and the donations will all go to cover the costs of production. The funding may exceed my costs but under the rules of Kickstarter I am not allowed to tell you what I really intend to do with those funds should that happen. So for the cynical minds among you please assume that I will spend all the proceeds on beer and board-games, everyone else will just have to trust.
Thanks for all the help on the way.
Thanks firstly for your support in helping me to get this out, more than the funding it is the vote of confidence for the project that your support provides.
Thanks of course to all the wonderful and inspiring people I talked to across the city, people I would never have met or listened to but for this project. To ensure consistency I conducted every interview personally, and edited all the transcripts myself to keep their original tone. But I also have to thank the critical help I had in getting this to the finish line; Jen on transcribing, Tom on the audio clips, Gregory and Gabriel on the videos, Jessica on the statistical analysis, Juliette to edit and keep me in line and my wife and sister for their endless encouragement.
Risks and challenges
Timing for December is my biggest challenge. My goal is to get a finished book as a pre-launch version into all supporters hands by mid-December before an official launch in the new year.
But there is a significant chance that I fail in that and that the books may not be finished and printed until early in the new year.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
I have been asked why do I use the lowercase in mentioning 'god' and warned that might put off a believing person in reading further.
The term is the hardest word to use and at first I struggled in the interviews as the word "God" for many people instantly conjured up the image of the god of the Bible, and conversation would revolve around their view of that specific image and the associated scripture.
The word Supreme Being meant nothing to most people except intellectual deists. Higher Power tends to be associated with AA. The Almighty, Jehovah, G_d, Allah etc are largely religion specific.
Nothing is perfect but 'god' is a generic word everyone has heard of. In the interviews I went to trouble to make it clear it could mean any divinity they understood (Nature, Vishnu, God of the Bible or nothing) and on this project page I have used the lower case only to make it clear that I am not using it as the proper noun of the main character in the Abrahamic Bible.
Michael C, from Brooklyn says: "You know the old Jewish prohibition on specifically naming God? It kind of makes sense, if I were able to understand the divine then I wouldn’t be human"
Please don't take offence if you feel it implies some disrespect.
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