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?