Step right up and choose your God: Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical, or Distant. A major national survey of American attitudes toward religion has found that an Authoritarian image of the Almighty is the most popular at 31%. Distant comes in second at 24% with Benevolent not far behind, 23%. Critical brings up the rear with 16%.
This finding goes a long way toward explaining why our country is so screwed-up. Almost half of our citizens go through their days believing that an authoritarian or critical god is looking over their shoulders, judging them for every moral misstep.
When I read the descriptions of the four Gods, “none of the above” sure seems like the wisest choice. From USA Today:
Authoritarian God. Highly involved in the daily affairs of the world; angry and punishes the unfaithful or sinful.
Benevolent God. Positive influence in the world; not as angry or wrathful as Authoritarian God; heavily involved in lives of humans but less willing to punish them.
Critical God. Watches world from afar with displeasure but does not interfere; believers think unfaithful will feel God’s anger in another life.
Distant God. A creator who set life and nature in motion; not active in the world or angry at what happens; does not help people or hold opinions about the world or human beings.
To me the most disturbing, yet unsurprising, finding in the study was that these images of God are strongly related to people’s political views. For example, only 4% of those who embrace a Distant God (hard to do, actually) say that supporting embryonic stem-cell research is always wrong, compared to 39% of believers in an Authoritarian God.
So those who think for themselves, basing their opinion on the facts at hand, unswayed by fear of eternal damnation, favor this life-enhancing research. But those who put blind faith in a several thousand year old text of dubious authenticity, composed when scientific knowledge was virtually nonexistent, consider that God is saying “Thou shalt not”—without any demonstrable reason for this belief.
That’s why I’ve argued to keep religion and individual morality out of lawmaking. Too many people believe too many crazy things to allow these delusions into the public policy arena. They need to be kept isolated in religious minds so they don’t infect the body politic with irrationality.
On the positive side, about one out of ten Americans (11%) claim no religious preference or identification. May their numbers grow, no-god willing. However, this group also wasn’t homogeneous. USA Today reports that of the unaffiliated:
--45% believe in a higher power or cosmic force (which is impersonal, I assume)
--37% don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world
--12% believe in God with no doubts
--5% believe in God with some doubts
--2% sometimes believe in God
So hard core atheists comprise only about 4% of the United States population. By contrast, 20% of Britons say they hold no belief in a higher power and only 38% claim to believe in a traditional God.
Well, we’ve obviously got a lot of catching up to do with Europe. One in three adult Americans firmly rejects the concept of evolution, a significantly higher proportion than found in any western European country. But, hey, we weren’t dead last in scientific knowledge among the 32 countries surveyed.
America is deeply religious. America is deeply ignorant about science. Gosh, could there be a connection?
Maybe if evolution wasn't taught as an atheistic dogma, Americans wouldn't find it repulsive.
Those who look at the creative hand of evolution and believe that blind, unconscious selection of random mutations in gene-driven robots somehow accounts for all of it - are powerfully deluded. Evolution is far more interesting than that.
I've covered this on one of my blogs, here:
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 14, 2006 at 06:10 AM
It is interesting that the survey did not provide an option for the Advaita understanding of "God" -- that everything is God, that everything is One.
Posted by: Matthew Cromer | September 14, 2006 at 06:12 AM
Thank you Matthew for raising another set of important points.
It is interesting that the Advaita understanding of God was not included in the survey. This is an understanding that would be mirrored in at least some Christian mystics view.
I enjoyed your comments about evolution.
As a trained ecologist and environmental scientist I have not ever bought into the blind, random, pure chance view of evolution.
Partly because that is as much putting a human conception onto nature (chance) as suggesting it is purposive (creationism/design).
Only this lunchtime I was looking at all the spiders webs in my garden and wondering. The spiders themselves can have no concept that spinning a web to trap prey is a cunning development. Yet something about the genes does, unless you subscribe to random, chance effects.
There is surely some form of intelligence at work here. Perhaps we need to find a paradigm that is inclusive of the intelligence within nature that does not posit a 'designer' in the sense of the personal God?
Posted by: Nick | September 14, 2006 at 06:27 AM
"Too many people believe too many crazy things to allow these delusions into the public policy arena. They need to be kept isolated in religious minds so they don’t infect the body politic with irrationality."
"We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned."
from Novaya Zhizn, No. 28, December 3, 1905. Signed: N. Lenin.
Posted by: Edward | September 14, 2006 at 06:47 AM
Relying on USA Today for accurate information. Oy.
Will Durst observes:
The American people want drive through nickel beer night.
The American people want to lose weight by eating sour cream and onion potato chips.
The American people want to clip Get Out Of Jail Free coupons from the Sunday Comics section.
The American people would chew off their own foot if Jerry Springer told them there was liquid gold in their ankle veins.
20 percent of the American people didn't understand the question so much they thought Ross Perot was the answer.
The American people think Bruce Willis can actually dodge bullets.
The American people love the Home Shopping Network because its commercial free.
68 percent of the American people still believe Professional Wrestling is legitimate.
Posted by: Edward | September 14, 2006 at 06:56 AM
This is a little off topic but there are many Christian scientists more than you would think, and it seems more and more evident the higher into the Sciences you arrive that strengthens the case of Christianity. I believe that God created everthing then rested. I also believe that after JC came to the world and the 100 years afterwards you dont need all that Lightning bolt strike,crap, like "Here me for I am your LORD" it didnt work in the Old testament and it definitely wont work in the 21st Century.
Posted by: Bryan | September 15, 2006 at 11:38 AM
I'd prefer this metaphysical version of "Family Feud" on the game show network.
"100 people surveyed, top five answers oin the board; Name something that describes your conception of God.
Posted by: benandante | September 17, 2006 at 08:13 AM