Thursday, September 14, 2006

What Kind of God do you Believe in?

There's a recent study from Baylor University (which is Baptist, btw) that's been making the rounds on the internet. The news that most people seem to care about is that there may be fewer secular people than previously thought. Apparently, many people who have put "none" for religion on previous surveys are believers who simply don't identify with any particular denomination.

I think the "four Gods" part is equally interesting, though:

"If you think about people perceiving God as high in anger, low in anger, high in engagement, low in engagement, it results in four different types of gods," said Froese.

What researchers found was that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

Researchers found that none of the "four gods" dominated among believers. The data showed:

* 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God, who is very judgmental and engaged
* 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God, who is not judgmental but engaged
* 23 percent believe in a Distant God, who is completely removed
* 16 percent believe in a Critical God, who is judgmental but not engaged

(These categories were distilled from answers to "29 questions about God'’s character and behavior.")



(Image from Christian Science Monitor.)


Instead of all the fun we're having over in the abortion thread debating moral issues, maybe we should just be arguing about how angry and/or engaged God is.


Some other tidbits I found interesting albeit unsurprising:

  • Individuals with lower educations and lower incomes tend towards more engaged images of God (Types A and B). Those with college degrees and who earn more than $100,000 disproportionately believe in a Distant God or are atheists.

  • Jews tend towards belief in a Distant God and over 8% of Jews in our sample report being atheists.

  • There is a strong gender effect in belief in God. Women tend towards very engaged images of God (Types A an B) while men tend towards less engaged images (Type D) and are more likely to be atheists.

  • Region of the country is significantly related to the four types of God. Easterners disproportionately tend towards belief in a Critical God. Southerners tend towards an Authoritarian God. Midwesterners tend towards a Benevolent God and West Coasters tend towards belief in a Distant God.

17 comments:

Flippy said...

Ha! War is better than gay marriage, always. God, please save me from your believers. Love is bad, war is good. It's a wacky world.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

I was looking through the pdf file. It was rather weird how they report that 9.6% of the Jewish participants believe that Jesus is the son of God. (Page 14)

They also report that Jews make up 2.6% of the white population in America, which makes sense, but that Jews also make up 3.7% of the African American population - which seems at odds with what I would have expected. (Page 11)

Seems fishy. Did they poll a group of Black Hebrews or something?

CyberKitten said...

The article said: the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes

I think they've got that the wrong way around. It's more like this:

their political and moral attitudes can predict the type of God they believe in... after all God is made in *our* image.

Interesting study though.

Billie Jean said...

> their political and moral attitudes can predict the type of God they believe in... after all God is made in *our* image.

True. Even if there is a God, how we perceive God is a reflection of our personalities.

Maybe people just think God is opposed to homosexuality because they're homophobes.

I'm sort of agnostic I guess but I'd tend towards a distant God, mainly benevolent, though.

Laura said...

Then of course, there's those of us that don't believe in one God. I tend toward the Distant model. The problem I see with the Authoritarian God is that there are so many interpretations of what "God" wants that no one can ever be correct. My God says this, but yours says that. So let's fight about xyz.

The problem with the Engaged god in general, is that there are far too many people living in pain in the world that you either have to believe that God is engaged and authoritarian (i.e. those people in pain aren't following the correct rules and thus deserve their punishment) or that God is engaged, but is also a total prick.

If everyone who believed in god believed in a distant, disengaged god, we wouldn't have many of the arguments we have today, because we would then all be able to agree that we can't define what "God" wants of us and wouldn't then try to push our own moral/religious adgendas onto others.

Interesting research.

Irviner Chasid said...

Interesting, except for the fact that they have predetermined defitions of "types of gd"

Infinite, all power, all knowing deity, yet it has only 1 of 4 personalities?

2.3% of the population being Jewish is a bit off.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

You'd figure that when God put his word out there that he would be a lot more clear about who he is and what he does and what he expects.

God must want everyone to be in limbo. Why else would he put dinosaur fossils on a planet and make it appear to scientists that the earth is 4.5 billion years old when in fact it is less than 6000 years old.

Billie Jean said...

> Why else would he put dinosaur fossils on a planet and make it appear to scientists that the earth is 4.5 billion years old when in fact it is less than 6000 years old.

Because we forgot one of the important God personality types... Trickster God! (For those who don't know, that's a Bill Hicks routine. I can't find it online but I'll search more when I have time.)

Irviner Chasid said...

>God must want everyone to be in limbo.

Isn't that the basic concept of most religions?

We have free will, if the evidence was 100% possitive in one direction or another free will would be meaningless.

As much as the "Trickster god" may be a routine, in every pagan culture a specific trickster god has existed. And I don't think its all that far fetched to say that one way in which we can relate to G~d is by viewing it as a trickster.

I actually have a post about this on my blog

Laura said...

Yes, Tricksters exist in many agrarian and pagan religions in some form or another. However, they're usually considered undesireable - not the God or being you worship, but the one you avoid. So if God were a Trickster God it would actually support the Authoritarian, Engaged type because Tricksters are usually beings who humans were careful not to piss-off. In order to be thought of in that way (better not do XYZ or else Loki will come and get me) a God would have to have a specific set of authoritarian rules to follow, and be engaged enough to 'punish' those who break them.

Irviner Chasid said...

If you say so.

But I dissagree based on what I have read and based on how I respond to Gd when I relate to him in a "trickster" mode.

to give an example. I think the english phrase which best expresses the concept is "The best layed plans of mice and men"... I don't see any authoritiarian view in that. If I was forced to put it into one of the for, I would call it distant.

Billie Jean said...

Did I say trickster god? I meant prankster god.

http://bilbulatsia.blogspot.com/2006/09/test-of-faith.html

Chana said...

I don't see these things as being mutually exclusive. I believe that God is simultaneously engaged, judgmental, critical and/or distant. We speak metaphorically of God having thrones or chairs, of moving from the "Throne of Mercy" to the "Throne of Judgement." We refer to God's distance as "hester panim," His turning of his face from the people. All of these qualities are evident in God, so I don't entirely see how one becomes more evident than the other. Should they not be equal?

Now, in my personal life and in my personal view of God, I tend to see either the engaged God or the judgmental God, depending on my actions and the moment. As God has the time to hear me when I speak, He therefore seems engaged, helpful, listening to me. As God simultaneously will judge me for my actions, He is far away.

Father and King...these are all metaphors and ideas we have for God at once.

Very interesting study. Thanks for posting.

Jewish Atheist said...

IC, Chana:

The article isn't about the four kinds of God but rather the four ways God is perceived. Chana, your point that God can be several of those things to a single believer is interesting.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Maybe we should just be arguing about how angry and/or engaged God is.

That would be interesting! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

I must admit to being torn about how engaged God is. The Bible depicts God as very engaged in dramatic ways. I think it's rather difficult to demonstrate that from people's day-to-day experience.

Perhaps God is dramatically engaged at intervals; or perhaps God is subtly engaged (e.g. a gentle influence over people's choices) day-to-day. But in my weaker moments I despair that perhaps the deists were right ….

And perhaps that is not unconnected from my (rather liberal) opinions on most moral issues.

Jewish Atheist said...

Q:

Maybe we should just be arguing about how angry and/or engaged God is.

That would be interesting! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.


Probably have to do that somewhere else as I wouldn't really be able to participate. :-D

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Try beliefnet.com's Belief-o-matic - it's a well-researched survey that took me a good 20 min to complete, at the end it tells you what religious group your beliefs are most consistent with. I was surprised that my #1 match was not Judaism! (but it came out #2)