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9/15/2006

ONE NATION UNDER GODS

We're apparently one nation under Gods.

The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion has completed what it calls "the most extensive and sensitive study of religion ever conducted." With help from Gallup, Baylor completed the "multi-year study of religious values, practices, and behaviors" they've not so succinctly named "American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depths and Complexity of Religion in the U.S." (Download the pdf here.)

The ISR states, "Most survey studies that include questions about religion only have space to ask about basic religious indicators such as church attendance and belief in God." Their survey goes much much farther. Among other fascinating findings the study concludes that we Americans have four views of God.

True, 95% of us say we believe in God or a god. But we don't believe in the same god. Of course we worship gods with different names, attached to different religious traditions and labels, but the Baylor folks claim all these thousands of differences can really be boiled down to four. Four gods. Four gods distinct only in how angry they are and how involved they are in the world.

  • HIGH ANGER + HIGH INVOLVEMENT = 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."

  • LOW ANGER + HIGH INVOLVEMENT = 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."

  • HIGH ANGER + LOW INVOLVEMENT = 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."

  • LOW ANGER + LOW INVOLVEMENT = 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."

    Is it possible, in light of yesterday's post, that the real God is none of these, or paradoxically more than one or all of these? Is it possible to discover what God is truly like, not get every stinking question answered about Him, but get some of the general character questions answered without projecting one of these four gods, one of perceptions of Him, onto Him? Is it possible? How do we try? Should we try?

    (HT:PW)
  • 13 Comments:

    Anonymous Stephen said...

    Should we try to fix our perceptions about God? Yes. How do we try? One good start is to read J. B. Phillips book "Your God is Too Small".

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

    OHH OHH!! *raises hand* I'VE GOT THE ANSWER TO THIS ONE!! Ohh ohh me! Me! Me!! *waves raised hand wildy*
    Okay the answer to this question is included in my book "How to get to know God."

    The book is only one page long and says this.

    To know God you must read His word, and be in His presence daily through prayer and also acknowledgement of the creation that He made that is all around you.
    THE END

    Yes that is my Sunday School answer.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    So it's just you and God? Nobody else?

    Well, it's just one page. You've got room for more.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

    Well shouldn't it just be us and God at least once a day? One on one? I mean it's great to be together as a body of Christ but if you don't have that personal relationship time with Him then what's the point. How are you going to get to know God when he's surround by a bunch of His other kids? It's like you at a concert. You don't get to spend as much time with friends as you would like to because you want to meet new friends. But you do take time to talk to your friends later on when things have calmed down to strengthen that relationship.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Phil said...

    Thanks for the hat tip, sg.

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous keith said...

    As I read about this in the paper today, I kept thinking, "Nope. That's not quite right. You're close here, but that's a little off. Nope. Nope. That's not it either." I know they were not trying to describe God accurately, just how people tend to think about God, but I would expect the American people to have a broader view than what is described in Baylor's four sector grid. Could it be that God is angry about some things at some times, is involved in ways we usually don't understand, and always loves. Maybe somebody rigged the questions or just tried to cram the answers into four boxes they set out ahead of time.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Andrew said...

    In reading the posts from the last few days, I have had one reoccuring thought. Where is faith? Somewhere in all our thoughts and ideas, we have to include some measure of faith. Why is it so hard for us to just accept what God has told us through His Word and have the faith that what we find in there is enough? There has to be time when we put ourselves aside and let God. It seems as though we are out there looking in every direction than up for the answers. If we believe the Bible is God's Word to us and it is without error, we have to have the faith that what we are supposed to know, and everything we need for this life is in there. Does this mean we should leave ourselves open and blindly believe the "interpretations" of man, no. So in that respect, we need seek, search, try to find and discover God. But, as you say Shaun, too many times we make God into our image, instead of the other way around. We are finite, limited individuals trying to comprehend an awesome, infinite, unlimited God. There is going to be a point where we have to acknowlege there will be an ignorance and lack of understanding.

    9/15/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    Why is it so hard for us to just accept what God has told us through His Word and have the faith that what we find in there is enough?

    And how many versions or interpretations of what "God has told us" are there. It's not as if there is total agreement on what it is God has said in His book and we're all just being silly and ignoring Him and it. Is it?

    9/15/2006  
    Anonymous Chris said...

    I wonder if our problem today is the same as it has always been. We tend to create an image of God in our mind and heart that is very similar to ourselves, our own character and nature... instead of conforming our character and nature to His. To many, God is just a little bit different from us... a kind of spiritual big brother with similar but less glaring character flaws. I agree that faith is lacking everywhere. Unfortunately, we have been accepting a blend of religion and secular enlightenment/philosophy/psychology in order not to seem too much like Jesus freeks to our friends, colleagues and neighbors. Part of the problem is our desire to not have to change too much. Part of it is a lack of leadership, afraid to expect too much from spoiled children or they may leave their pews and take their money with them. Of course, you have the health and wealth gospel which is nothing more than present-day idol worship and rabbit's foot religion. It seems that our religion has gotten in the way of our faith.

    9/16/2006  
    Anonymous Chris said...

    As an addendum: I had a long history of difficulties with our church leadership hanging on to traditional ways of answering questions. We stopped teaching people and just told them what to think in order to avoid "chaos" and "conflict". I wonder if we started to teach people how to think as opposed to just what to think... would we inspire a desire to seek God for ourselves but in the context of a community of discernment and accountability? What if leadership inspired questions instead of snuffing them out and then taught people how to learn and search in an open community setting where the process is public as in Acts 15?

    9/16/2006  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Shaun, if we asked your family and good friends about you, we'd get divergent opinions. You would not, then, become "Shauns". You're still Shaun.

    It would be freaky if everyone answered with the same answer to "Who is Shaun?" Real freaky.

    And how much more mysterious is God? The clouds veil Him. He is not our species. We don't see Him clearly. He's no Automaton, He is a Personality. Constant, but "predictable" doesn't quite catch it.

    He remains one God, in spite of our different, and grossly incomplete, conceptions. I'm quite sure that yours is different from Chris's (above) or Mustard Packet Pelter, or, as I say, from Lincoln's or MLK's or Thomas Jefferson's.

    FWIW, I can't believe it's purely a matter of taking the Bible seriously. I suspect that we could read the Bible together a hundred times, and still, our incomplete understandings would differ.

    This doesn't abandon the idea that some conceptions are just plain ol' wrong. But I think God, and truth, and beauty, is like a redwood tree: Even if we can't get our arms all the way around Him, He's still there.

    I hadn't caught this study -- thanks for blogging on it...

    Best,
    Brant

    9/16/2006  
    Blogger Shaun Groves said...

    I agree Brant. I kept myself from commentating on this study but, man, I really wanted too. I'm tracking with you here. Had a fascinating conversation with a physicist friend of mine I hope to blog about soon, that says exactly what you just said but in a much nerdier way. Essentially, his take is, nothing can be observed without also observing the observers impact on the thing being observed. (Follow that?) And that includes, he thinks, God.

    9/16/2006  
    Blogger The Cachinnator said...

    I've had a post about this saved as a draft since I caught it in the Trib. I'll post it soon. I think that if you asked the people who took the survey, they'd have some of the same objections that people who read it are having. I doubt they would say that they had a distinctly different 'God.' I think the four descriptions are just their dominant perceptions.

    That said, I think we all have faulty dominant perceptions. Hopefully, we'll expand ourselves enough to fight those misconceptions in maturity. But surely, even if you couldn't identify with one of those 'Gods,' there was one that creeped you out less than the others. Don't you think?

    9/16/2006  

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