I roared with laughter.
When the editor said: “We’re following up What the World Thinks of America“, the whizzy global discussion which tested opinion (and satellite equipment) around the world, I more or less assumed the next target would be something, well, equally visible: what we think of politicians or money or scientists or Israel or Hollywood.
Something with an address; a blurred aerial photograph at least.
But no. “It’s God”, she said, “what the world thinks of God”.
I laughed because I imagined myself back on that philosophy course at university, the one where we spent the whole of the first term discussing Bertrand Russell’s struggle to work out the shape of his coffee table, and the second on whether it existed at all.
And I thought: if it takes eight months to get a fix on a piece of home furnishing you can produce a receipt for, how much longer to get tabs on a supreme creator?
Questions of faith
Plenty believe there is no such being.
If God is the answer, what was the question exactly?
Plenty see him as a warlike avenger, the modern Mars, unleashing armies in his name across the globe; just as many see their God as peaceable, love-sponsoring and personal, with a neatly trimmed beard.
Some see Him as Her.
We can’t agree.
Yet as we sent our pollsters out to all points west – Nigeria, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, South Korea, Russia, across Britain, India, the US and Mexico – it turned out we didn’t have the problem with definition we were fearing.
Muslims, Hindus, Christians, atheists, were all able to replace our definition of God with theirs.
The questions were not about religion but faith.
Does suffering make it harder to believe?
Do you believe because your family does, or was it because of someone outside your family? (Watch for the American answer on that one.)
Do you pray often, sometimes, never? Only at weddings?
Would the world be more peaceful without God?
I wish I could say more here. The embargoed poll results are absolutely fascinating.
The UK in particular stands so defiantly alone on so many questions that we knew, when we got the answers back, we had struck gold.
And some anomalies too – in Indonesia, where almost everybody believes in God, the question: “Is religion a crutch for the weak-minded?” won such fervent agreement that we are going back to look at how it was translated.
Furthermore the 6% of all atheists who concede they “have always believed in God” are either a statistical quirk or testament to the human ability to be on the fence, both sides of it and underneath it at the same time.
But the figures do give us a breathtaking global picture.
Live on the night, ranged throughout the world, our panel of the ardent and the puzzled will pick over the meaning.
We even have a War Audit prepared by academics looking to see how many wars have been caused by religion in the last 2,000 years.
The numbers may surprise you.
We promise an evening of faith, doubt and revelation; and not a coffee table in sight.
We have bigger things to disagree on.