When American Idol judge Simon Cowell recently predicted the departure of contestant Jermaine Sellers, the young singer shook his head in disagreement. "I know God," he replied, pointing upward.
Two days later, when Sellers failed to make the cut, he still had faith. "What God has for me is for me," he said. "In God there is no failure."
Sellers is not alone in believing that God pays attention to reality television contests. New research shows that most Americans believe God is directly involved in their personal affairs and that the good or bad things that happen are "parts of God's plan," according to a report in the March issue of the journal Sociology of Religion.
Two US surveys, the Baylor Religion survey, with a representative sample of 1721 Americans, and the Work, Stress and Health Survey, which collected data from phone interviews with 1800 people, support these conclusions.
Some 82 per cent of the respondents said they depend upon God for help and guidance in making decisions. And 71 per cent believe that good or bad events are part of God's plan for them.
Other surveys have confirmed similar conclusions: 71 per cent of Americans are absolutely certain about their belief in God, while another 17 per cent are fairly certain; 56 per cent believe religion is very important in their lives and 26 per cent say it is somewhat important.
In the US, where 39 per cent attend church each week and 33 per cent once or twice a month, religious affiliation is 79 per cent Christian, 16 per cent unaffiliated, 2 per cent Jewish, 1 per cent Muslim and 1 per cent Buddhist.
In Australia, a Nielsen study conducted in December 2009 reveals that while Australians may not be as religious as people in the US, nevertheless they are more religious than perhaps we thought. 68 per cent believe in God or a universal spirit and 50 per cent say that religion is very important in their lives.
But atheists and agnostics also had a strong showing in the national survey of 1000 respondents.
Almost one in four Australians (24 per cent) do not believe in either God or a universal spirit, and 7 per cent are not sure or say they "don't know."
Christianity, often considered to be on the decline, was still the largest faith, with 64 per cent of people saying they identified most with it.
The next biggest faith was Buddhism at 2 per cent, followed by Hinduism and Islam, each of which had 1 per cent of believers. Judaism amounted for less than one half of 1 per cent.
The question that comes to mind is: Why is there such a difference in attitudes toward God and faith between Americans and Australians?
Both nations were settled at similar times and were populated mainly by people from Britain and Europe. What has caused such a difference in attitudes? Perhaps the contrast between the two nations is best illustrated in how both nations were founded.
Britain, in the days of George III, was run by an undemocratic oligarchy. Power was in the hands of corrupt politicians and court favourites. Wealth was inherited and poverty was "heir-conditioned." At birth you got the part you were to play. When born into poverty, you stayed in poverty.
In those brutal days, if you stole a loaf of bread or something of similar worth to feed your starving children, you were given a one-way ticket to Port Jackson (now Sydney). This was the way Britain's idle rich disposed of Britain's idle poor.
So Australia was settled largely by a colony of thieves and other law-breakers. America, on the other hand, was settled very differently. When the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, the first act of the passengers was a prayer meeting. When the First Fleet landed at Port Jackson, their first act was an orgy! It explains a lot about the ensuing characters of the two nations.
On the night the women passengers were first permitted ashore in Australia, they were greeted by a terrifying electrical storm, which blinded one sentry and electrocuted five of the colony's precious sheep (Australia's first impromptu barbecue).
It led Lieutenant Clark, who was the only soldier brave enough to not be cowering in his cabin along with the other soldiers, to remark at what he saw between the strobing lightning strikes. "Good God, what a scene of whoredom is going on there in the women's camp. I would call it by the name Sodom, for there is more sin committed in it than any other part of the world."
It was conditions such as these that helped shape Australia's future. Next, the Second Fleet arrived and the Neptune, upon which 428 males and 78 females were transported, was a ship of barbarism and horror. The captain had decided there would be no exercise or fresh air for the entire voyage of eight months, which resulted in 169 deaths during the voyage from scurvy, dysentery, floggings or infectious fever. Prisoners would conceal the death of others so as to make use of their rations until the stench of the rotting corpse alerted their jailers.
The anti-institutional element of Australian Christianity can be traced to the days of the penal colony. While American Christian leaders were firmly on the side of the general population, Australia's Christian leaders, such as the Rev Samuel Marsden, were very much against them. Instead of looking at the convicts as humans to be helped, the church looked at them as sinners to be punished. In response, the convicts returned the hostility. Since the colonial days in Australia, the Christian church has remained a focus of ridicule.
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issued a dire warning: "Mainstream Christianity is dying out more quickly in Australia than anywhere else in the world." This trend has not ceased, with less than one in 10 Australians attending church on a regular basis, and nearly one-third not identifying with any religion.
Unfortunately, the Australian statistics are probably representative of much of the Western world. America still stands out as the exception in religious ardour. Speaking of the last days of our world, Jesus made the statement that when "the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Apparently circumstances are going to be such that immediately prior to His return, true faith will be a rare commodity, indeed.