God: benevoloent, authoritarian, distant or critical?

Dateline: Wed 13 Sep 2006

The late writer/guru F. Scott Peck correctly said, "Everyone has a religion, because everyone has a world view."

Now we learn that not only do we all have a religion, we all have a personality assigned to God -- benevolent or authoritarian or distant or critical.

Well, at least in America, according to a recent university study.

Not surprisingly, the study says, a particular view of God's personality closely correlates to our political views as well as where we live in the U.S. (West Coast, no surprises here, favors a distant God. Those who believe in an authoritarian God willing to punish sin are more likely to be from the South. East Coast, critical God. Midwest, beneveloent. Get it?)

The story is courtesy of the London Times and was forwarded my way by astute reader Jim Burns, who I'd say is both benevolent and critical. The source is a study from Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion in Texas.

From the Times of London:

"Researchers found that Americans hold four distinct views, and these "Four Gods" are remarkably accurate diviners of how an American thinks about everything from politics, abortion, taxation and marriage.

"You learn more about people's moral and political behaviour if you know their image of God than almost any other measure," said Christopher Bader, one of the researchers.

"Nearly a third of Americans, 31.4 per cent, believe in an Authoritarian God, angry at earthly sin and willing to inflict divine retribution, including tsunamis and hurricanes.

"At the other end of the scale is the Distant God, seen by 24.4 per cent as a faceless, cosmic force that launched the world but leaves it alone. This is seen more by liberals, moral relativists and those who don't attend church. This God has most believers on the West Coast.

"The Benevolent God, popular in America's Midwest among mainstream Protestants, Catholics and Jews, is one that sets absolute standards for man, but is also forgiving, engaged but not so angry. Caring for the sick is high on the list of priorities for these 23 per cent of believers.

"The Critical God, at 16 per cent, is viewed as the classic bearded old man, judgmental but not going to intervene or punish, and is popular on the East Coast.

"African Americans believe overwhelmingly (53.4 per cent) in an Authoritarian God.

"Women tend towards very engaged images of God, Authoritarian and Benevolent, while men tend toward the Distant God, and are more likely to be atheist.

"More than 80 per cent of those who see an Authoritarian God believe gay marriage is wrong, compared with only 30 per cent who view their God as distant.

Anyhow, there are plenty of other fascinating observations. The story quotes Paul Froese, a professor at Baylor:

"This is a very powerful tool to understand core differences in the United States. If I know your image of God, I can tell all kind of things about you. It's a central part of your world view."

The actual story is much more nuanced than my summary. Please read it. at this link:


contact me: ruth@ruthholladay.com


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