“Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.” So Oscar Wilde wrote in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
And if you don't believe Oscar, read a recent Public Policy Poll. The poll found that 33 percent of people approved of the job congressional Republicans were doing (55 percent disapproved), while 33 percent approved of Democrats (54 percent disapproved). Standard fare.
But most telling was a throwaway question tacked on to the poll. If you believe in God, how do you feel about the job it is doing?
It turns out that about as many people, percentage-wise, approve of God as disapprove of Rupert Murdoch — 52 percent. Agnostics weren't sure. Atheists were not included in the sample size.
But just 52 percent? These are people who believe in God. “I’msure I believe,” they say. “But I don’t know that I approve. This is, oddly enough, the converse of my stance on homosexuality.”
I do not find this number intensely reassuring. Who are these people who believe in God but seem to think that they would do a better job?
“Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine scheme of Creation?” asks a character in Joseph Heller's “Catch-22.” It's a fair point, I suppose, at least from the perspective of those being surveyed.
“Not really sold on the humpback whales,” we remark. “And what's up with these dinosaur bones you've buried everywhere to trick us?
“Also, we've noticed that bad things keep happening to good people. Meanwhile, bad people have benefits showered on them, such as being elected to offices and given responsibility for resolving the debt crisis.”
Even if God's job approval rating was high, God's Job approval rating is permanently stuck in the low teens.
But this is the trouble with approval ratings.
A camel is not a horse designed by committee. A camel is a horse if whoever responsible was constantly fixated on the poll numbers. “We’ve added a lot of great features without losing any of the basic elements you initially liked,” they point out.
If God were to behave anything like the present Congress or the present administration, His immediate response would be to go into panic mode and start redesigning all the giraffes; make cuter, more innocuous bears; and cancel all the currently scheduled natural disasters.
So if this teaches us anything, it might be that these approval ratings are meaningless.
“Lord,” we say, “assuming You exist and wish to be capitalized, we have a few suggestions. We think only good things should happen to everyone all the time. Also, disasters are terrible and poll badly with the youth. Only 47 percent of people in the coveted 18-to-29 demographic approve of the way you’ve handled them.”
President Obama undergoes great moments of pain and dark nights of the soul when he fails to obtain an approval rating above 46. But even among people who believe, God rates no higher than a 52.
Only 71 percent approve of God's job of creating the universe. Five percent disapprove, leading one to believe that they were just messing with the pollster. "Cuttlefish," say the other 24 percent. “C’mon.”
But after a certain point this is ridiculous.
“Look, if you want to do big things,” thunders a voice from the heavens, “you have to stop trying to please everyone. You physically can't please all the people all the time. You can't even fool all the people all the time. The polls are a big proponent of having and eating your cake at the same time. This, in the real world, is not a thing that is possible.”
“Unless you have two cakes,” we say.
“Shut up,” saith the Lord.
Sure, the polls say that the American people want compromise, but scratch the surface of those polls and it turns out that they want the kind of compromise that involves no actual concessions from anyone. Compromise away and make balanced cuts! Just don't raise taxes or cut entitlements! It’s the two-cake problem — and we may soon run out of cake entirely. “How about cutting foreign aid, federal pensions and welfare?” the public asks. “What about the other 85 percent of the budget?” everyone else responds.
Perhaps a miracle is in order. But miracles seem in rather short supply lately.
So perhaps it was good that God was ranked. It puts things in perspective. If the entity ultimately responsible for getting us into this mess can’t pull better than a 52, we ought to cut ourselves some slack. As Wilde points out, any effect — even a humpback whale — produces some degree of unpopularity. God can’t poll above a 52? If Congress can, maybe it’s doing something wrong.