God gets good job approval ratings in recent survey

I’m not sure why Public Policy Polling decided to recently include these questions in a mid-July survey (just to make comparisons with current politicians and Rupert Murdoch?) but here is how Americans rate God’s job performance:

While many polls have asked what Americans’ beliefs are about God, there has been little measurement of voters’ evaluation of its performance. It turns out, if God exists, voters would give God a strong 52-9 approval rating. This is hardly a surprise considering the vast majority of the country believes in an infallible deity, but some of the crosstabs are quite interesting.

There is a considerable age divide on God’s approval with those 18-29 approving 67-18 compared to a 40-6 approval rating among those over 65. What jumps out from this divide is not just that young voters are more likely to be critical of the job performance of the omnipotent figure, but that they are considerably more likely to voice their opinion. Only 15% of those 18-29 said they were unsure whether they approved of God, while 54% of those over 65 said they were unsure. This could indicate that the youth is much more comfortable answering silly questions about religion while the elderly feel a question on God’s approval is taking religion too lightly. There is also an ideological divide over God’s performance. Those who identify as very liberal approve of God 54-18, while those who identify as very conservative are almost uniform in their approval, 61-4.

God also performs well on some of the issues it could be responsible for if it exists. God scores its best rating on its handling of creating the universe. The big bang may be messy, but most voters must feel it gets the job done as they give God a 71-5 rating on the issue. As for the animal kingdom, if God exists it may have been off its game when it evolved up the giraffe’s laryngeal nerve, but perhaps the elegant Monarch butterfly makes up for it as voters give God a 56-11 rating on its handling of animals. As one would expect, God’s worst ratings are on its handling of natural disasters; however, Americans may feel the occasional earthquake or hurricane builds character as voters give God strong marks, rating it 50-13.

These figures seem pretty high but they are rather vague questions. If you are going to ask these questions, why not add a few more: do you feel God has treated you fairly lately? Do you think God has blessed the United States? Which political party do you think God would side with more? Do you feel that God approves of your job performance in life?

Maybe these figures do indicate some generational and political gaps. There are also some differences by race as African-Americans are more likely to approve of God’s performance. Or perhaps these figures don’t tell us much of anything. PPP could start asking this question more regularly and track the data over time.

It would be interesting to follow these questions by asking respondents why they gave the rating they did. Were respondents afraid to give God negative ratings?

Also, how come there is no indication of how many people didn’t answer this question since it starts with “If God exists”? Cross-tabs give us percentages but we don’t have Ns for the categories or cells.

The theology of Stephen Colbert

On his show, Stephen Colbert can be irreverent about faith and God. But in a segment from his December 16 show, Colbert brings up a recurring question: with which American political part would Jesus side? Playing up his conservative act, Colbert suggests Jesus is really a liberal Democrat and that means we need to take the Christ out of Christmas.

But in his closing statement, Colbert makes a more profound point:

Because if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then just admit that we don’t want to do it.

An interesting set of choices.

America’s Four Gods: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical, Distant

A new book from two Baylor sociologists, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God – and What That Says About Us, examines Americans’ image of God. They uncovered four viewpoints: an authoritative God, benevolent God, critical God, and distant God. And the image individuals had of God then influences how they view other issues in the world:

Surveys say about nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, but the way we picture that God reveals our attitudes on economics, justice, social morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics, love and more, say Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, sociologists at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Their new book, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us, examines our diverse visions of the Almighty and why they matter.

Based primarily on national telephone surveys of 1,648 U.S. adults in 2008 and 1,721 in 2006, the book also draws from more than 200 in-depth interviews that, among other things, asked people to respond to a dozen evocative images, such as a wrathful old man slamming the Earth, a loving father’s embrace, an accusatory face or a starry universe.

Researchers from the USA to Malawi are picking up on the unique Baylor questionnaire, and its implications. When the Gallup World Poll used several of the God-view questions, Bader says, “one clear finding is that the USA — where images of a personal God engaged in our lives dominate — is an outlier in the world of technologically advanced nations such as (those in) Europe.” There, the view is almost entirely one of a Big Bang sort of God who launched creation and left it spinning rather than a God who has a direct influence on daily events.

The image of God that we develop is likely strongly influenced by our cultural background which include our families and our surroundings. A couple of questions spring to mind:

1. How do churches promote or push these separate viewpoints of God?

2. At what age do children already have one of these images of God?

3. How difficult or common is it to change one’s image of God?

4. How much do people fit their image of God to their already developed or developing views of the world?

5. How are each of these four viewpoints rooted in wider American culture?