Public opinion polls
Americans' diverse beliefs
about the nature of God
- "... since Americans agree on basic religion indicators, American
religion seems monolithic. In fact, under the surface American religion is
startlingly complex and diverse. Americans may agree that God exists. They
do not agree about what God is like, what God wants for the world, or how
God feels about politics [or about sin]. Most Americans
pray. They differ widely on to whom
they pray, what they pray about, and whether or not they say grace. A vast
majority of Americans are Christians, but attitudes amongst those Christians
regarding the salvation of others, the
role of religion in government, the
reality of the paranormal, and their consumption of media are surprisingly
What God is like: Findings of the Baylor Religion Survey of 2005:
The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and the Department of
Sociology, both at Baylor University, conducted the Baylor Religion
Survey during the winter of 2005/2006. It was funded by the John M. Templeton Foundation. They
asked 1,721 randomly selected American adults a total of 77 questions covering a broad range of religious questions.
They state that the margin of error is � 4 percentage points.
Some of the questions dealt with the nature of God as the subjects perceived him/her/it/them to
- Survey question 22: "Even if you might not believe in God, based on your personal
understanding, what do you think God is like?" Subjects could mark of one
of five responses, from strongly agree to strongly disagree:
|A cosmic force in the universe
|Removed from worldly affairs
|Removed from my personal affairs
|Concerned with the well-being of the world
|Concerned with my personal well-being
|Angered by human sin
|Angered by my sins
|Directly involved in worldly affairs
|Directly involved in my affairs
There are some very remarkable results to this question. Many Christians
seem to disagree with the teachings of their own faith group. Most
denominations -- particularly those in the conservative wing of the religion
-- teach that God takes a very active role in each
believer's life and in the world as a whole. Further, God is believed to be angered by any sins that
either believers or other humans commit.
However, sizeable numbers of American adults either reject these beliefs or
are are at least open to the opposite viewpoint:
- About one in three adults are open to the Deist belief that
God is removed from both their own personal affairs and from the world.
- Four out of nine adults at least accept the possibility that God is
not angered by sinful behavior -- either by themselves or by other people.
- Half of adults are at least open to the belief that God is not
directly involved in worldly affairs.
- Four in nine adults is at least open to the belief that God is not
directly involved in their own affairs.
Americans seem confused as to whether God has a gender. That is to be
expected. Christians are taught the Lord's Prayer which begins: "Our
Father." Jesus prayed to "Abba" (Papa). Yet God is believed
to be a bodiless spirit by almost all Christian denominations except for
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the
- Survey question 23: "How well do you feel that each of the following words
||Not very well
||Not at all
The four different Gods that Americans worship:
The Baylor Study revealed that Americans have "two clear and
distinct dimensions" in their beliefs about God:
Degree of God's engagement: The extent to which God
is directly and intimately involved in the life of each believer and in the
lives of other humans.
Degree of God's wrath: The extent by which God is
angered by our sin and will punish us for our transgressions.
Since each of these dimensions can have a high or low value, the
study talks in terms of Americans recognizing the existence of one out of four
Type A: Authoritarian God: (High engagement; high
anger; believed in by 31.4% of the population.) God is viewed as being
highly involved in each believer's life. God guides believers to make proper
decisions; God is responsible for major world events - tsunamis, etc; God is
furious at human sinfulness and punishes sinners. Southerners;
evangelicals; women; African Americans; persons with lower educational
attainment and lower income, those who pray often and attend church
frequently, and those who view God as a "he" tend to believe in this God
more than the average American.
Type B: Benevolent God: (High engagement; low anger;
believed in by 23% of the population.) As for Type A, God is active in
everyone's lives. But he is slow to anger and punish. Rather, he influences
people positively. Mid-westerners, women, persons with lower educational
attainment, lower income, who pray often and attend church frequently are
more likely to believe in this God.
Type C: Critical God: (Low engagement; high anger;
believed in by 16% of the population.) God does not interact much with the
world. He is angered at sin but generally withholds punishment to be meted out
in the afterlife. Easterners, men, persons with higher educational attainment,
and persons with higher income are more likely than average to believe in this God.
Type D: Distant God: (Low engagement; low anger;
believed in by 24.4% of the population.) This is similar to the God of the
Deists: he is viewed as a cosmic force who created
the universe and its natural laws. He is not involved much with the world
and does not judge humans. West coasters, Roman Catholics, mainline
Protestants, Jews, men, persons with higher educational attainment, and
persons with higher income are more likely than average to believe in this God.
The remaining 5.2% of the population not included above are strong
reject the existence of God.
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.
One might reach some shocking conclusions from the Baylor
Americans believe in four very different, incompatible
conceptions of God.
Assuming that only one God actually exists, then
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:
Prayer is obviously ineffective in assessing the nature of
God. If it did work, then essentially all believers in God would quickly
gravitate away from at least three of the four Gods to a more accurate
viewpoint. This conclusion is in harmony with the results of a pilot study among this website's visitors. That study
showed that believers cannot assess the will of God through prayer.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Selected findings from the Baylor Religion Survey," Baylor Institute
for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, 2006-SEP, at:
http://www.baylor.edu/ Pages 6 & 7. This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
- Ibid, Page 62.
- "Baylor Religion Survey: Codebook," Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), at:
Copyright � 2006 and 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-DEC-23
Latest update: 2007-JUL-03
Author: B.A. Robinson