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Despite Negative Press and a Drop in the Polls, is God Making a Comeback?

Story by Arin Gencer
Published 12/19/13

About a year ago, a Pew Research Center report revealed that a rapidly growing number of Americans didn’t identify with any religion, jumping to 20 percent of the public and one-third of adults younger than 30. But, a quick scan of the country’s cultural landscape suggests Americans do have a keen interest in—if not a passion for—God and spiritual things. From books to television to the digital realm, religious subjects and themes surround us. Some books like Zealot, God is Not Great and The God Delusion question its relevance, while many other sources offer a more positive viewpoint.

A glance at the New York Times best-seller list shows Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus held the top spot for more than a month in 2013. Proof of Heaven, a neurosurgeon’s account of his otherworldly experience while lying in a coma, resided on the list for a year and, along with the devotional Jesus Calling, was among the top overall sellers of the first quarter of 2013, according to Publisher’s Weekly.

Programs with religious themes have popped up all over cable television in the past few years, including The American Bible Challenge on the Game Show Network and The Bible miniseries, which debuted on the History Channel in March 2013 with 13.1 million viewers—reportedly the biggest audience for a cable broadcast at that point of the year. The show became the top-selling miniseries of all time after its home-video release, and an NBC sequel is in the works. What does this all mean?

“There’s been a growing gulf between formal religion and what people might call spirituality—it’s very much an individual thing,” says William Johnsson, who leads interfaith relations for the North American Division (NAD) and teaches world religions at Loma Linda University (Calif.). “In fact, spirituality is being manifested in all sorts of ways. ...There is a big tendency toward individuals seeking after God, or seeking in small groups rather than churches.”

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