How do Americans view God? That’s the question that Baylor University focused on in a comprehensive survey of religion in America. USA Today offers a synopsis of findings from the results. Dr. Al Mohler offers some good insight on the survey as well.
Highlights of Baylor’s analysis:
The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity’s sins and engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on “the unfaithful or ungodly,” Bader says. Those who envision God this way “are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals,” Bader says. “(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools.” They’re also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).
The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.8% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says. They’re inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father’s 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself. “God is in control of everything. He’s grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn’t follow him. But I see (a) God … who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance,” Johnston says.
The Critical God (16% overall, 21.2% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he’s not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. “This group is more paradoxical,” Bader says. “They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they’re less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they’re not quite conservative, either.” Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research. For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.
The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is “no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us,” Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It’s also strong among “moral relativists,” those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don’t attend church, Bader says. Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.
As you can tell from reading the descriptions, none of these desciptions of God are fully fitting of the biblical God of Christianity. Be sure to check out Dr. Mohler’s post for additional insights on this fact.