"The United States calls itself one nation under God, but Americans don’t have all the same image of the Almighty in mind." Thus begins a page one piece by Cathy Lynn Grossman in today’s (9/12/06) USA TODAY on a new Baylor University religion survey conducted by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
Most fascinating to me are the results of how Americans view God … his personality and nature. Four concepts of how Americans view God emerged from nearly 1,800 survey respondents:
* The authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity’s sins and engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs. Did you grow up in a church with this view of God?
*The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. Those with this view see God primarily as a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible. Did your parents have this view of God? Do you?
*The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he’s not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. Do you know someone with this view of God? The Baylor survey showed this group is significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research.
*The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions of us." Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. Those who believe God never intervenes in the affairs of the world are the least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong.
While it’s interesting to think about people view God, veteran religion writer Terry Mattingly, commenting on the new survey, says if you really want to know where people who say they are Christians fall on a left to right theological spectrum, ask these 3 questions:
1. Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
2. Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
3. Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?
Mattingly says the real fault line lays between those who believe in the power of eternal, unchanging, absolute, revealed truths, and those who believe truth is evolving and personal.