Tuesday, September 19, 2006

American Views of God

In 2005 the Baylor Institute for Studies in Religion contracted with the Gallup organization to administer a comprehensive survey of Americans' beliefs about religion and spirituality. Some of the general findings: American religion is startlingly complex and diverse. Americans may agree that God exists. They do not agree about what God is like, what God wants for the world, or how God feels about politics. Most Americans pray. They differ widely on to whom they pray, what they pray about, and whether or not they say grace. A vast majority of Americans are Christians, but attitudes amongst those Christians regarding the salvation of others, the role of religion in government, the reality of the paranormal, and their consumption of media are surprisingly diverse.

The Baylor Religion Survey contains 29 questions about God’s character and behavior. Analysis reveals two clear and distinct dimensions of belief in God. These dimensions are:
1. God’s level of engagement – the extent to which individuals believe that God is directly involved in worldly and personal affairs.
2. God’s level of anger – the extent to which individuals believe that God is angered by human sins and tends towards punishing, severe, and wrathful characteristics.

From these dimensions, the population was classified into four types of believers. Individuals in each of the groups of believers express very different views of who God is and what God does in the world. Researchers found that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

• 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God: Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also tend to feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly.

• 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God: Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in a
Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in our daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals.

• 23 percent believe in a Critical God: Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views the current state of the world unfavorably. These individuals feel that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world.

• 16 percent believe in a Distant God: Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend towards thinking about God as a cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not “do” things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events.

• 5 percent are Atheists: Atheists are certain that God does not exist. Nevertheless, atheists may still hold very strong perspectives concerning the morality of human behavior and ideals of social order but have no place for the supernatural in their larger worldview.

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