Friday, September 15, 2006

Survey Says!

It would have been real easy to react to the piece in Time magazine this week titled Does God Want You To Be Rich? and the Osteenism that's sweeping much of Christianity, but Shaun Groves did it and then got reacted to by Aunt B.

What caught my interest even more was a new survey by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion called American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US (pdf). Now, of course, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and there's always the halo effect (people answering how they think they should answer, lying basically), but this one seemed pretty straightforward and will provide me material to write about for weeks.

The one that hit me is the concept that develops of the 4 Gods. 95% of people surveyed ascribe to a belief in God. However, when asked specifically about their beliefs in God, those views were pretty divergent. From those views, the researchers developed this idea that people in the US have four views of God, or the four Gods.

The concept is developed from a person's ideas about God's engagement in the world and everyday life and His level of anger.

So someone who believes that God has a high level of involvement and high level of anger, the researchers called that view the Authoritarian God. Their definition was "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."

The God with a high level of involvement but a low level of anger is the 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."

The God with a high level of anger, but a low level of involvement is the 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."

And finally, the God with low anger and low involvement is the 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."

How this breaks down demographically is fascinating. For instance, 43.5% of people in the South (not sure how the researchers defined South, but we'll let that go for now) believe in the Authoritarian God; 32.5 in the Midwest. 30.3% of people in the West believe in the Distant God.

If you're white, you have about an equal chance of believing in the Authoritarian, Benevolent, or Distant God (29.6, 24.5, and 25.1, respectively). However, 52.8% of African Americans subscribe to the Authoritarian model. Males believe about equally in Authoritarian and Distant (with 7.8% claiming atheism). Females were about equal on the Authoritarian and Benevolent.

The differences get even starker for those that attend church weekly or more and pray daily or more.

So, which of those four ideas resonate? Some factets of several? Do the demographic breakdowns surprise you or confirm things that you already felt?

This is really a fascinating survey and for anyone interested in this stuff, I highly recommend it. It gives a very clear picture of the state of religious belief in the US (as far as any survey can, I suppose).


Tony Arnold said...

There is only one true God and he is going to smite those that don't follow him. The 4 gods is hypocrisy!

Phil, remind me again the font you recommended for irony, jokes, and sarcasm.


Thomas+ said...

One of these God's looks most like the God of the Bible, and the others don't. I am right about this because I am a priest. And the winner is ... wait, my computer, the keys are sticking . . . the answer is alsfdkjpasoiruewpoaskdfljlas;dfkjkjfsdkjf

jettybetty said...

Thanks for those links Phil--they have my head spinning. I saw that article--but now I am re-thinking my reaction!

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