But wait just a minute, Wuthnow continues. If religion’s foundations are so weak, why do so many Americans say that they believe in God? Does the U.S. not have one of the highest levels of education in the world?

“My contention,” Wuthnow explains, “… is that well-educated, thoughtful Americans have found a way of having their cake and eating it too: of affirming their faith while also maintaining their belief in reason.” To this end, Wuthnow examines “the highly supple ways in which language about religion actually works.”

After a first chapter on the uses and abuses of dogma, “The God Problem” looks at what Wuthnow calls “the language devices that enable thoughtful responses to questions about prayer and other aspects of how we talk about human relationships with God.”

These “language devices,” or common phrases, Wuthnow explains, give people ways to express both uncertainties about God that “any reasonable person” is inclined to have; yet at the same time these words and phrases provide ways to express positive convictions that religious people embrace.

Wuthnow’s topics include prayer, God’s place in a world where catastrophes happen, heaven, freedom, and connecting science and faith.

While Wuthnow is an academic, he writes not for other scholars only but for the average reasonably well-educated person. This is an ideal book for the thoughtful reader who is willing to look up the definition of an occasional word and who wants to become better informed and more articulate about how religion works in America.

Also of interest: “The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence and the Experience of God’s Love” by Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma and Stephen G. Post. Oxford University Press (New York, 2012). 301 pp., $29.95.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including “What Faith is Not” (Sheed & Ward) and “The Rosary Handbook” (The Word Among Us Press).