Froese and Bader's research wound up defining four ways in which Americans see God:
•The Authoritative God. When conservatives Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck proclaim that America will lose God's favor unless we get right with him, they're rallying believers in what Froese and Bader call an Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor's 2008 findings.
"They divide the world by good and evil and appeal to people who are worried, concerned and scared," Froese says. "They respond to a powerful God guiding this country, and if we don't explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all."
•The Benevolent God. When President Obama says he is driven to live out his Christian faith in public service, or political satirist Stephen Colbert mentions God while testifying to Congress in favor of changing immigration laws, they're speaking of what the Baylor researchers call a Benevolent God. This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans, according to Baylor's findings.
"Rhetoric that talks about the righteous vs. the heathen doesn't appeal to them," Froese says. "Their God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all."
Asked about the Baylor findings, Philip Yancey, author ofWhat Good Is God?, says he moved from the Authoritative God of his youth — "a scowling, super-policeman in the sky, waiting to smash someone having a good time" — to a "God like a doctor who has my best interest at heart, even if sometimes I don't like his diagnosis or prescriptions."
•The Critical God. The poor, the suffering and the exploited in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next, Bader says.
Bader says this view of God — held by 21% of Americans — was reflected in a sermon at a working-class neighborhood church the researchers visited in Rifle, Colo., in 2008. Pastor Del Whittington's theme at Open Door Church was " 'Wait until heaven, and accounts will be settled.' "
Bader says Whittington described how " 'our cars that are breaking down here will be chariots in heaven. Our empty bank accounts will be storehouses with the Lord.' "
•The Distant God. Though about 5% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, Baylor found that nearly one in four (24%) see a Distant God that booted up the universe, then left humanity alone.This doesn't mean that such people have no religion. It's the dominant view of Jews and other followers of world religions and philosophies such as Buddhism or Hinduism, the Baylor research finds.
Be sure to read the rest of the article here.
If you have a few moments, you can go to the researchers' website and take an online quiz that will help you see the way you view God. Here is the link - http://www.thearda.com/whoisyourgod/index.asp There, you can take a text based quiz or an image based quiz about God's severity or ambivalence. It was these quizzes that the research team used to develop the Four Gods.
The research shows that the type of God people believe shapes how they see issues in the world. For instance, Sociologist Christopher Bader looked at evil in the world:
"When we talked about Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, the Authoritative God type was most likely to think God had a hand, directly punishing us for society's sinful ways," Bader says.
But believers in a Benevolent God "will focus on a fireman who escaped, or the people who rebuild homes, or the divine providence of someone missing a flight that crashed on 9/11," Bader says.
To someone who sees a Distant God, the 9/11 terror attacks amounted to a sign of man's inhumanity, not God's action or judgment, Bader says. And they see a storm as just a storm.
Believers in a Critical God say whatever happens now, "God will have the last word," Bader says.
Be sure to join us this Thursday night and tell us what kind of God you believe in. Do you believe in this God because of how you were raised, a personal experience, or because you reasoned it out? How does a belief in this type of God change you and your view of the world?
This Thusday night, 7pm at Short's Brewing, we will discuss Our Four Gods. Join us!