About two years ago Rikki Tahta volunteered a free hand to help us journeying through the religions of New York City. What a wonderful offer!
Then, a year ago, he started his own project in finding out what NYC really thought of "God/god/G_d." Guided by the broad census statistical categorization of the city, over 6 months he traveled round the 5 boroughs interviewing a cross-section of people and capturing their individual search (or not) for the divine.
If you would like to support Rikki in his project in pushing the project into an e-book and beyond, you can go to his Kickstarter page to find out more: God in New York.
Here is how he describes his project:
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 bookWorking, 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).
Some top line numbers that jump out
67% believed in some form of a personal* god(s).
58% were highly confident of their opinions (no significant doubt) of whom 8% were certain there was nothing and 50% were confident there was a god
34% believed in some form of a god or divinity and did something about it, (prayed, meditated, read, reached out) but rejected all organized religion.
32% were of exactly the same doctrine as they were brought up as a child
* A god that knows you as opposed to a Deist god of laws or Buddhist style philosophy that has a concept of the divine but no personal relationship
What Groups did people fall into ?
Looking at everything people said and using statistical cluster analysis to group them, people naturally fall into one of four groups, (They can be broken down further into 8 sub-groups)
- Traditionals 36% Standard members of a global religion
- Independents 34% Believed and practiced something but rejected religion
- Milds 22% Ignore or very low conviction about anything
- Rejectors 8% Confident there is nothing more than atoms
Demographics of the sample (to match the last census of the City of New York)
- Brooklyn 30%
- Queens 27%
- Manhattan 20%
- Bronx 18%
- Staten Island 6%
- White 37%
- Hispanic 27%
- Black 23%
- Asian/other 13%
- Female 51%
- Male 49%
- 18-24 17%
- 25-44 47%
- 45-60 24%
- 60+ 14%
Rikki's Kickstarter page God in New York