America's Four Gods

Money, Power, Status, and Success?

Not according to a new survey done by Baylor University, reported by the USA Today:

The United States calls itself one nation under God, but Americans don't all have the same image of the Almighty in mind.

A new survey of religion in the USA finds four very different images of God — from a wrathful deity thundering at sinful humanity to a distant power uninvolved in mankind's affairs.


Though 91.8% say they believe in God, a higher power or a cosmic force, they had four distinct views of God's personality and engagement in human affairs. These Four Gods — dubbed by researchers Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant — tell more about people's social, moral and political views and personal piety than the familiar categories of Protestant/Catholic/Jew or even red state/blue state.

For example: 45.6% of all Americans say the federal government "should advocate Christian values," but 74.5% of believers in an authoritarian God do.

I like the fact that the study (and article) look at religion and belief not through labels but by examining patterns of belief. I was raised in the church, a centerist, mainline protestant one, and I'll be the first to say that all the Methodists in that one church cannot be lumped together, let alone all the Methodists in the United States.

Some findings:
  • 10.8% of Americans have no religious affiliation.
  • 12.2% of Americans believe a woman NEVER has a right to choose.
  • Only 18.6% of Americans believe that God specifically favors the United States in world affairs. )I thought this would have been higher.)
  • 82.9% want better efforts to protect the environment, including 75% of 'Authoritarian God' believers.
  • Only 28.9% want funding for faith-based organizations.
  • Only 20.3% of Americans believe that embryonic stem cell research is wrong.
  • 57.8% of Americans believe the Federal Government should distribute wealth more evenly.
Some SCARY findings:
  • 4 in 10 believe in "ancient advanced civilizations" a la Atlantis. (No wonder science is screwed.)
  • 45.6% of all Americans say the federal government "should advocate Christian values," but 74.5% of believers in an authoritarian God do.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has read at least one of the Left Behind books. (But 28.5% have read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.)
  • 69.9% of Americans want prayer in public schools.
The study was preformed by Baylor University, which is a Baptist affiliated school. More troubling, the survey was self selective: It was a 16 page questionnaire sent out at random. on 46% of those sent out (3,702) were returned (1,721). For a survey on religion, those least likely to spend the time filling out and returning a rather long survey would be those with the least interest in religion. I'm not accusing Baylor of twisting results, I'm just saying that their method might skew the results slightly. The survey's use of the word 'Church' exclusively, rather than 'house of worship' is a little problematic, though. According to the Baylor Lariat, the funding came from the Templeton Foundation which doesn't do much to encourage me either.

Overall, the study (and corresponding article) seem to make the point that BOTH 'Liberals' and 'Conservatives' are mostly believers, though they believe in different gods. I would like to see how the United States compares to other first world countries. According to this Lariat article, Baylor University plans to conduct the survey every two years.

If anybody has Lexis Nexisn and can provide a link to the actual paper, leave the link in the comments.

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