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Churchgoing down? It may be a blessing

The Lord really does work in mysterious ways.

How else to explain the results of the latest U.S. Religious Census revealing that religious affiliation in Western New York has plummeted over the last decade?

Apparently, living in Buffalo Niagara is so bad that it can erode your faith in a higher power.

Western New York used to lead the nation in the proportion of the population that had a religious affiliation. But there has been a 31 percent decline in the last decade, according to new figures from the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

The "unclaimed" are now the biggest portion of the Buffalo Niagara population, larger than any single religious denomination.

Given what we've been through, it's easy to understand why. With our devilish politicians, hellish business climate and eternally damned sports teams, you can't blame the region's residents for losing faith.

Anyone who has prayed for a new Peace Bridge will certainly fathom the falloff in religious fervor, as we've dawdled for 20 years and still have virtually nothing to show for all the studies, designs and charettes.

Ditto for those waiting for the outer harbor to miraculously morph into a mecca of public access, even as it remains in the hands of a transportation agency that no one -- including the agency -- thinks ought to be doing waterfront development.

And those believing that a strong religious connection would stop our suburban high school athletes from tossing around the N-word in the locker room or on the field have no doubt given up on religion as a civilizing power.

Looking nationally for inspiration is no more rewarding for a Western New Yorker than looking around at all of the local signs that can convert a true believer into a cynic.

Maybe it's the Bible-thumping hypocrisy of religious zealots who drummed a gay strategist out of Mitt Romney's campaign, while the candidate himself -- like Peter on the night of the Crucifixion -- tried to keep a low profile and refused to speak up for what he knows is right.

Or maybe it's the Catholic Church's schizophrenia when it comes to human rights and dignity, standing up for the poor and oppressed yet treating women like second-class citizens when it comes to health care and control of their own bodies.

Or maybe it's simply all of those football players praising God after a touchdown -- or blaming God after a loss, like the Bills' Stevie Johnson -- as if He/She really drops everything else on Sundays to host a tailgate party in heaven.

Whatever the reason, the decline in religious affiliation will have pastors -- and their church treasurers -- doubling down on prayer.

But the trend doesn't worry me one bit, considering the wars, racial strife, poverty and income gaps we sanctioned when we were worshipping ever so faithfully every Sunday.

If I recall correctly, Jesus didn't spend that much time in church, either -- except to chase out the money-changers.

Maybe pushing Western New Yorkers out of the pews is God's way of making us see that it's not what happens in church that counts, but what happens outside. Instead of asking more of God, it's time to ask more of ourselves, both personally and in terms of public policy that actually follows God's lead.

Instead of forcing politicians to end every speech with "God bless America," maybe it's time to get up off of our knees and work harder to make it a place that deserves to be blessed.