02/11/2008 06:15 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

God's 15 Minutes

Church attendance is way down in Europe. Perhaps it was all those centuries of bloodshed in the name of religion that put them off it or simply the growing popularity of brunch. But you just don't hear much talk of God other there, in politics, at the dinner table, on television.

Not so in the US of course. Aside from religious programming of near biblical proportions, indeed whole channels devoted to devotion, I am struck by just how many shout-outs He gets from the general public. God is an actor, a media star in not just the Jimmy Stewart-John Wayne (or should I say Charlton Heston) great-at-playing-themselves way, but what we might refer to as a versatile player, up for the challenge presented by any of life's scripts. God seems to get a part in many Americans' 15 minutes of fame.

His roles are diverse. There's the Savior God of course. Distraught relatives being interviewed on the evening news about loved ones out hiking and caught in a freak (dare I say God-induced?) storm, certain that God will bring them home safely. Or those same relatives the following day who, sadly, have received bad it's God's will. God At The Pearly Gates steps into the role.

There's also The Decider God, recently called upon by an Iowa voter who couldn't make up her mind between Romney and Huckabee. Asked how she was going to arrive at a decision, she said she would "pray on it." Now, huge dilemma to start. Would that prayer be to a Mormon God, Evangelical God, or perhaps a multi-denominational God, the kind I believe presides over those one-size-fits-all chapels in airports and hospitals? And bigger question - whomever she decided on -- was that the result of some celestial endorsement? Lobbyists, just imagine the possibilities.

Hey how 'bout one of those chapels in, say, Walmart? A Decider God who could turn you away from those few rounds of ammo or a 24-pack of Twinkies. Or The God of Finding Things (silver mid-size in Parking Area A, B, Z...??). The Parking Space God had helped you find the spot earlier in the day. All in all, a much more practical, prosaic God.

There's also the God of Thanks. This is the most rampant form of God invocation, its practice most prevalent on awards shows of every variety. I know, we really don't want to think that He is wasting his time orchestrating a People's Choice Award for best supporting character in a reality series rather than fighting infant mortality, but as an all-rounder, an actor who "loves to work," He's gotta take bit parts every now and then.

Now I'm sure I've offended a few believers. Not my intention. As an agnostic, try as I have to not be one, I envy those of true faith as long as they are not committing evil deeds in the name of it. They seem to be more optimistic, more accepting people. I can't say I think they are in reality some of the time, but hey, it works for them. But frankly, I'm not big on public displays of religious fervor nor God mixed with politics, education, or the outcome of sporting events.

We doubters are a more pessimistic lot, not cutting God much slack and bemoaning that He seems to get thanked with an above-the-title credit when things go well but when they don't He just ends up on the cutting room floor. Then it's man's fault (or occasionally the Wrath of God if we've been extremely bad). I realize this is an oversimplification but it just doesn't jibe for me. Though He does have a recurring, if minor, role in my movie. Just in case. That would be the Desperation (aka "Foxhole") God.

But despite my non-belief in a traditional God, which I've come to after decades of contemplation and observation and experience in the world - and I firmly believe that if there is a God He is not omnipotent and if He is, then not totally beneficent - I do believe there's something out there, some positive energy or force, from which we can draw love, strength, clarity, calm. My suspicion is it's already inside us and prayer and meditation just bring it out. But please, those of faith, don't throw God's name around for little stuff, ok? It belittles Him, whoever He may truly be.

And when it all comes down to it, it's not what you believe, it's how you behave. I aspire to Good, not God. It's all you can do; the rest is a crap shoot. Clearly, I - we - all fall short sometimes, in ways large and small, for love or money or nastier pursuits. So we make amends and try harder next time and hope that He is as forgiving as advertised.