Men’s Health, a magazine I’ve never read, is making a foray into spirituality. Or at least religiosity. According to an article in the Friday New Jersey Star-Ledger, the magazine noted for its washboard abs and iron biceps is poised to claim New York City among the least devout cities in the country. Even lower on the scale are New Jersey’s own Newark and Jersey City. Quite apart from wondering what a magazine whose cover frequently involves suggestions on how to improve your sex life has to do with religious devotion, the criteria for this assessment also give pause. According to the article, a city’s saintliness is measured by the per capita number of worship venues, the diversity of religious groups in the city, and the amount collected in donations. Interesting criteria.
I’ve spent enough time in New York to know it is hardly Heaven – still it is one of my favorite venues – but that it is hardly Gomorrah’s brute step-brother either. Per capita places of worship as a measure of spirituality overlooks size of venue and number of services. A Midwestern town with a dozen churches, each with a dozen members and with one service a week scores ahead on such a scale against a city with more than 2000 churches, 1000 synagogues and 100 mosques, many with multiple congregations. Diversity of religious groups? Surely New York and New Jersey must come out in front on that! I’ve been to Europe, and even Israel, and there are days when I’d swear New Jersey has a higher percentage of ethnic groups than any similar-sized region I’ve experienced.
My main concern, however, is with the amount of donations criteria. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” a famous guy once said. Was the treasure monetary? Precisely the opposite seems to have been the point. True, money today is often a measure of value, but it is not the only such measure. In fact, the same guy who made that statement once said a poor woman’s two cents were worth more than the lucrative eternal investment of the wealthy. I don’t doubt that New York, Newark, and Jersey City have their share of innovative sins. Their citizens, however, are just about as religious as people are anywhere. In my opinion the trouble is not in the souls of the masses, but in the design of the assessment. But with pecs like that, what does it really matter?