Monday, September 11, 2006

Religion in America: The Four Gods

What follows is some info from American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US, a study conducted by Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

Apparently, they were only looking at Christianity in America, but then it is Baylor University. They examine "paranormal" beliefs, but do not look at "other" religions.

This finding, though, was interesting:
The Four Gods

The Baylor Religion Survey contains 29 questions about God’s character and behavior. On
these items, we performed a factor analysis (a statistical test of conceptual unity) to reveal two clear and distinct dimensions of belief in God. These dimensions are:

1. God’s level of engagement – the extent to which individuals believe that God is directly involved in worldly and personal affairs.

2. God’s level of anger – the extent to which individuals believe that God is angered by human sins and tends towards punishing, severe, and wrathful characteristics.

From these dimensions, we split the population into four types of believers (see Figure 13).

Individuals in each of the groups of believers express very different views of who God is and what God does in the world (see Figure 14 for percentage breakdown).

Type A: Authoritarian God: Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also tend to feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly.

Type B: Benevolent God: Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in a Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in our daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals.

Type C: Critical God: Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views the current state of the world unfavorably. These individuals feel that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world.

Type D: Distant God: Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend towards thinking about God as a cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not “do” things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events.

Atheists: Atheists are certain that God does not exist. Nevertheless, atheists may still hold very strong perspectives concerning the morality of human behavior and ideals of social order but have no place for the supernatural in their larger worldview.

These four types of God are related to demographic and religious differences in the population. Demographic Relationships (see Table 7):

* There is a strong gender effect in belief in God. Women tend towards very engaged images of God (Types A an B) while men tend towards less engaged images (Type D) and are more likely to be atheists.

* African-Americans believe overwhelmingly (53.4%) in an Authoritarian God. And no African-Americans in our sample purported to be atheists.

* Individuals with lower educations and lower incomes tend towards more engaged images of God (Types A and B). Those with college degrees and who earn more than $100,000 disproportionately believe in a Distant God or are atheists.

* Region of the country is significantly related to the four types of God. Easterners disproportionately tend towards belief in a Critical God. Southerners tend towards an Authoritarian God. Midwesterners tend towards a Benevolent God and West Coasters tend towards belief in a Distant God.

Religious Effects (see Table 8):

* Individuals with more engaged images of God (Types A and B) are more likely to attend church weekly and pray several times a day.

* God’s anger alone (Type C) does little to inspire religious participation such as prayer and church attendance.

* Catholics and Mainline Protestants tend towards more belief in a more Distant God.

* Evangelical Protestants and Black Protestants tend towards belief in a more Authoritarian God.

* Jews tend towards belief in a Distant God and over 8% of Jews in our sample report being atheists.

* Over 40% of Americans who are not affiliated with a church, synagogue or mosque are atheists.

* Individuals who feel strongly that God is a “he” tend towards belief in an Authoritarian God.
Using some generalizations here, this study supports the position of Spiral Dynamics in how it views religious belief -- specifically monotheistic Christianity.

Those who believe in a personal God would tend to be more in the egocentric, authoritarian, and absolutist view of God, while those who see God as more impersonal tend toward the ordered, rational, and distant view of God. This fits perfectly into the memetic expectations in the Spiral.

Looking at other results, the study provides significant support for the memetic development that Clare Graves originated and Beck & Cowan codified. It's important to note that much of the data in this study would fall into the transitional zones between memes, rather than exemplifying specific memes.

Much of what passes for Spiral Dynamics discussion glosses over these more complex transitional states. It's essential that we stop thinking of people as colors, even though the shorthand is convenient (and I am sometimes guilty of this as well).

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