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?