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Part 2:
Results of the Baylor Religion Survey:
Americans' diverse beliefs about the nature of God

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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The four different Gods that Americans worship (Cont'd):

The Baylor Study revealed that Americans have "two clear and distinct dimensions" in their beliefs about God:

  • How directly is God involved in the world and people's personal life?

  • Is God angered by sin and respond with punishment and wrath?

Helen T. Gray, writing for McClatchy Newspaper, quoted a USA Today article:

"Believers just don't see themselves the way the media and politicians, even their pastors, do. These four Gods 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." 1

The study analyzed the effects of gender, race, age, education, income, region, church attendance, frequency of prayer, religious tradition, and interpretation of the Bible. They found some groups in which the majority believed in the Type A authoritarian God:

  • 68.0% of Black Protestants,

  • 60.8% of biblical literalists,

  • 56.1% of those who believe that God is a "He",

  • 52.8% of African Americans,

  • 54.8% of those who pray several times a day,

  • 52.3% of evangelical Protestants, and

  • 50.9% of those who attend church weekly,

There were no groups of adults in which a majority believed in one of the other three types of Gods.

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One might reach some shocking conclusions from the Baylor Religion Study:

  • Americans believe in four very different, incompatible conceptions of God.

  • Assuming that only one God actually exists, then

    • At least three of the God types listed above are false.

    • Most American adults believe in a type of God who is non-existent.

  • The vast majority of American adults base their belief in one of these four Gods -- directly or indirectly -- on the contents of the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament and New Testament). Thus, it appears that either:

    • The Bible is ambiguous when it describes the nature of God, or

    • Faith groups have been doing a poor job at education.

  • Prayer appears to be ineffective in assessing the nature of God. If it did work, then it would seem likely that essentially all believers in God would quickly gravitate away from at least three of the four Gods to the most accurate viewpoint. This conclusion is in harmony with the results of a pilot study among this Webster's visitors. That study showed that believers cannot assess the will of God through prayer.

  • There is a phenomenal opportunity for any merchandising expert who would be willing to take on the task of "selling" Deism to the U.S. public. Deism is more a belief about God than a religion. Many Deists believe that God created the universe and the laws of nature, kick started it into operation, left, and hasn't been involved in the affairs of humans or of the rest of the universe ever since. In other words, they believe in a very distant god who is removed from worldly and personal affairs.

    Consider Baylor Survey Question 22:

    • 23.7% of the subjects strongly agreed or agreed that God is removed from worldly affairs."

    • 35.0% strongly disagreed or disagreed that God is directly involved in worldly affairs."

    • 20.9% strongly agreed or agreed that God is removed from their personal affairs."

    • 30.5% strongly disagreed or disagreed that God is directly involved in their personal affairs."

Thus, substantial minorities of U.S. adults hold beliefs about God that are very different from what they might hear in church.

These beliefs resemble those of Deists. That, coupled with the fact that many of the founders of the U.S. Government were Deists back in the late 18th Century might make a substantial minority of American adults receptive to the Deist message. Deism might be of considerable interest to older teens and young adults. Many of them are disillusioned at the teachings of the faith groups in which they were brought up. They reject the sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and attitude towards human sexuality, the environment, origins of the species, the world and the rest of the universe, and other scientific topics

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Reference material:

  • book cover American Piety in the 21st Century: New insights to the depth and complexity of religion in the U.S. Selected findings from the Baylor Religion Survey, 2006-SEP. Download from: http://www.baylorisr.org/

  • book cover Rodney Stark, "What Americans really believe," Baylor University Press; illustrated edition edition (2008). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in Kindle format for $13.61 and in paperback for $20.92 plus shipping.

    Amazon review:

    "A shocking snapshot of the most current impulses in American religion. Rodney Stark reports the surprising findings of the 2007 Baylor Surveys of Religion, a follow up to the 2005 survey revealing most Americans believe in God or a higher power. This new volume highlights even more hot-button issues of religious life in our country. A must-read for anyone interested in Americans' religious beliefs and practices."

  • book cover Paul Froese & Christopher Bader, "America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--and What That Says about Us," Oxford University Press, (2010) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in Kindle format for $13.61 and in paperback for $20.92 plus shipping.

    Publishers Weekly review:

    "Using conclusions drawn from the Baylor Religion Survey first published in 2006, these two Baylor University professors expound on their thesis that Americans' view of God can be characterized as one of four basic types: authoritarian, benevolent, critical, and distant. By knowing which of the four types of God an American believes in, these scholars can predict that person's views on many of the pressing issues facing the country. As an antidote to the prevailing but simplistic dichotomy between religious and nonreligious Americans, this thesis is far more nuanced and satisfying. But it, too, has its limitations. It's not clear that people stick to one view their whole lives, and it doesn't fully account for the views of those who occupy middle ground, somewhere between a judgmental and forgiving God. Still, the fourfold God typology is a step toward better understanding how Americans regard morality, how they understand the presence of evil, and what meta-narrative they tell about their lives.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Helen T Gray, "Survey researches God's varied image," The Free Lance-Star, 2006-SEP-23, at: https://news.google.com/

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Copyright © 2006 and 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-DEC-23
Latest update: 2015-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson 
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