Factors that determine which type of God people believe in:
How a person thinks of God is influenced less by Scripture and more by race, gender, education, income, politics and even where a person lives.
Moreover, researchers say the type of God people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes better than just looking at their religious tradition.
This finding is part of the Baylor Religion Survey released last week the most extensive survey of religion ever in the United States.
“American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the U.S.” was conducted by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and Baylor University’s Department of Sociology, involving 1,721 respondents across the country.
The survey included 29 questions about God’s character and behavior, which researchers said reveal two clear and distinct dimensions of belief in God.
They can be summed up in two questions: What is your belief about how directly God is involved in the world and your personal life? And do you believe God is angry about sin and tends toward punishment and wrath?
From this, researchers concluded that Americans see God in four ways:
Type A: Authoritarian God (31.4 percent): These are believers who tend to think God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making, is responsible for global events, is quite angry and capable of meting out punishment on the unfaithful and ungodly.
Type B: Benevolent God (23 percent): These believers tend to think that God is active in their daily lives but are less likely to believe that God is angry. Instead, God is mainly a positive influence in the world and less willing to condemn and punish.
Type C: Critical God (16 percent): Believers in this grouping tend to think that God does not interact with the world but observes the world unfavorably, that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world.
Type D: Distant God (24.4 percent): People who believe this way tend to think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry, that God is more a cosmic force who sets the laws of nature in motion and does not do things in the world nor hold clear opinions about individuals’ activities or world events.
The remaining 5.2 percent of those surveyed say they are atheists.
Stephen J. Andrews, Old Testament, Hebrew and archaeology professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said surveys often simplify conclusions, and categories often represent extremes.
“This appears to be true of this survey,” he said. “The trouble is that religious faith, which includes the human perception of deity, is far more complex and sophisticated.”
The Bible presents a picture of a God who is somewhat of a paradox, one who is just, meting out punishment, but also benevolent, caring for people, he said.
“I wonder if there had been another mediating option between ‘A’ and ‘B’ if the survey results would be different. I think they would.”
Warren Carter, New Testament professor at St. Paul School of Theology, wondered what role Scripture plays in forming people’s views.
“It’s interesting that ‘B’ is the closest to the emphasis of the New Testament writers, though aspects of ‘A’ are also present,” he said. “Generally, views ‘C’ and ‘D’ are not prominent in the New Testament.
“This suggests that for some people the New Testament texts, along with other factors, are important in shaping their perceptions of God, while for others the experiences of their own lives and of what is happening in the world play a greater role in their images of God.”
The survey says it’s possible to look at demographic and religious factors of an individual and conclude which view of God that person is likely to hold.
For example, women tend to believe in a God who is more engaged in their lives (Types A and B) and men tend toward less engaged images (Type D). The majority of African-Americans (53.4 percent) believe in an Authoritarian God.
People with less education and lower incomes tend toward the more engaged images of God (Types A and B), while those with college degrees and incomes of more than $100,000 tend to believe in a Distant God or are atheists.
Geography also appeared to shape views: Easterners tend toward belief in a Critical God; Southerners, an Authoritarian God; Midwesterners, a Benevolent God; and West Coasters, a Distant God.
People with more engaged images of God (Types A and B) are more likely to attend church weekly and pray several times a day. God’s anger (Type C) does little to inspire religious practice and participation.
Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews tend to believe in a more Distant God, while evangelical Protestants and black Protestants tend to believe in a more Authoritarian God.
People who feel strongly that God is a “he” tend to believe in an Authoritarian God.
Are those who believe, "God-fearing" or "God-loving"?
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