Sunday, October 10, 2010

Most Americans believe in God, but not necessarily the God you know

Every day now TV is flashing poll results in our faces.  But I'd rather have results from detailed studies than instant polls, so it caught my attention, Friday, when I ran across the USA Today article about the new book about God, published by sociologists of Baylor University of Waco, Texas.

Cathy Lynn Grossman writes  "Surveys say about nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, but the way we picture that God reveals our attitudes on economics, justice, social morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics, love and more," quoting Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.

"Their new book, America's Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us, examines our diverse visions of the Almighty and why they matter.

"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" wrote the Apostle James in his second book of the New Testament (II James vs 19)

 Here in the Bible Belt it's popular for people to claim a belief in God and even to say "I'm a Christian," but  at least a few of them demonstrate  religious views that are far different from those of a Benevolent God, hardly resembling Jesus.

The study separated the beliefs about God into four categories:

The Authoritative God
The Benevolent God
The Critical God
The Distant God

Read on into Grossman's review for more definition of the categories:
"The Authoritative God- About 28% of the nation shares this view Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him
"The Benevolent God- a vision shared by 22% of Americans This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans,
"The Critical God- held by 21% of Americans Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next
"The Distant God- nearly one in four (24%) Distant God that booted up the universe, then left humanity alone."

Read a little further for more explanation of the four views of God:
"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 of What 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.
"Rabbi Jamie Korngold of Boulder, Colo., took Baylor's God quiz and clicked with the Distant God view "that gives me more personal responsibility. There's no one that can fix things if I mess them up. God's not telling me what I should do," says Korngold. Her upcoming book, God Envy: A Rabbi's Confession, is subtitled, A Book for People Who Don't Believe God Can Intervene in Their Lives and Why Judaism Is Still Important.
"Others who cite a Distant God identify more with the spiritual and speak of the unknowable God behind the creation of rainbows, mountains or elegant mathematical theorems, the Baylor writers found.
"This distant view is nothing new. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that he could not imagine that a "Supremely Perfect" God cares a whit for "such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man."
"The Baylor researchers' four views of God reveal a richness that denominational labels often don't capture. They found that Catholics and mainline Protestants are about evenly divided among all four views, leaning slightly toward a Benevolent God. More than half of white evangelicals identify with an Authoritative God; that view is shared by more than seven in 10 black evangelicals, they said."

My personal view, knowledge, understanding, and experience with Jesus is that He is Benevolent. He cares for me and all his children.  When I consider the Loving God, I can't see Him not being Benevolent.  I feel Jesus.
I don't deny Judgement, as in The Authorative God, but I believe God's Love can do anything, including overcoming Judgement or Harsh Punishment.
I have trouble with The Critical God view, as the All Powerful, Ever-Present God is not limited by time and space.  If we believe in Eternal Life, we are not limited so much either.  Is God the same every day or does He call the shots differently in a future time?  God is God  and has the power and privilege to do as He pleases, but I don't see such a nature revealed in Jesus.
I feel sorry for those who believe in the Distant God concept.  Their lives must be very miserable without feeling the daily presence of Jesus.

If you receive PBS on your television, be sure to watch/record the three-night "God in America" , Monday-Wednesday, October 11-13. It " examines our religious history, one rife with people contesting over visions of God."

Be sure to take a look at Cathy Lynn Grossman's complete articles in USA Today
Link to Grossman article: 'God views' and issues
Link to Grossman article: Ignorance on religion is a civic, spiritual danger 
William A. Ricks 
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