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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--and What That Says about Us by Paul Froese & Christopher Bader

First, see this ABC NEWS VIDEO, click here.

Using conclusions drawn from the Baylor Religion Survey first published in 2006, two Baylor University professors theorize that Americans' view of God can be characterized as one of four basic types:

Authoritative (different from Authoritarian?)
28% of Americans believe in an authoritative god that is very judgmental and engaged in the world. These types of believers tend to be evangelical and male.

22% of Americans believe in a benevolent god that is very involved in the world, but is loving and not stern. These tend to be evangelical women.

21% of Americans believe in a critical god who is removed from daily events but will render judgment in the afterlife. There is a tendency for African Americans and people who have lower levels of income and education to believe in the critical god.

24% of Americans believe in a distant god who set the universe in motion but then disengaged. People who say that they are spiritual but not religious tend to believe in the distant god.

By knowing which of the four types of God an American believes in, these scholars can predict that person's views on many of the pressing issues facing the country.

As an antidote to the prevailing but simplistic dichotomy between religious and nonreligious Americans, this thesis is more nuanced. But it, too, has its limitations. It's not clear that people stick to one view their whole lives, and it doesn't fully account for the views of those who occupy middle ground, somewhere between a judgmental and forgiving God. Still, the fourfold God typology is a step toward better understanding how Americans regard morality, how they understand the presence of evil, and what narrative they tell about their lives. See also the review here.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated in response to such research that God encompasses all of the four types. Though I hope Mohler also admits that human beings do not appear to encompass all four types of God equally in their minds. Perhaps Mohler himself does not. I wonder what his results would be if he took the online test to determine which type of God he envisioned? My own result after taking the test was, "Distant God."

Mohler also said that the theory of the Baylor profs was "unhelpful," though they seem to have demonstrated its effectiveness at predicting people's political and social opinions. So it depends on what you mean by "unhelpful."

Mohler also typed that the first type of God was "Authoritarian." A lot of reviewers have been doing that, including the one at Publisher's Weekly. But the book itself only features the word "Authoritative."

According to sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor study and the book, America's Four Gods:
Twenty percent of Americans believe God is actively engaged in manipulating the American economy.

Eight in ten political conservatives believe there is only a single ultimate truth, and new economic information about cost-benefit analysis isn't going to change their mind about the economy.

Only twenty percent of Americans hold a purely secular view of the economy (that the economy is driven purely by market forces).
In other words, says one blogger, here, "there is a huge fraction of the population who won't listen to facts. And Froese's work is backed up by a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study that found that the most religious are on average least willing to accept well-established facts that conflict with their religious beliefs."

In an interview with State of Belief, Froese elaborated on his findings:
[We're finding that] people who link strong religious beliefs to economic conservatism think that the state of nature is a free market; and that if you mess with the free market in terms of government regulation or some type of taxation, you are disrupting a state of nature that God wanted us to have. And so, really, we're finding that many of these believers see government as really a profane object, and I think that's the reason why they are against many of the liberal kind of suggestions on how to fix our economy - because they see conservative theory as, really, an article of faith.

... [For] this population – again, I’m talking about people who have very strong religious beliefs that they connect to an economic conservatism – they tend to be poor and less educated ... these people tend to vote against policies that seem to be in their favor – increasing spending on education, increasing spending on social welfare.
See also this U.S.A. article that summarizes data from the Baylor study and the book, click here.
Make a shorter URL to this article. Highlight link and "Copy To Clipboard"

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