Saturday, October 23, 2010

America's Four Gods

And I'm not talking about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and (T.) Roosevelt.

USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman reports on a sociological study by Baylor University professors Froese and Bader. Americans take social/political/moral stances based on their assumptions about the degree to which God judges and engages with the world. This is not earth-shattering research, but the authors contribute an insightful taxonomy that plots these assumptions into four categories of "god-ness": authoritative, benevolent, critical, and distant.

Most useful, I think, to us is the understanding that religious public discourse cannot proceed at stasis unless interlocutors understand something of their opponents' assumptions. For example, our degree of support for faith-based initiatives hinges on how invasive we believe God to be in our lives. At the top of Grossman's study we find data showing a range of support for government-funded faith-based interventions in poverty, with "authoritative" believers at 47% and "distant" believers at 13%. Perhaps we would benefit from beginning any religious debate with the question, "What kind of God do you believe in?"

And again: We are, it seems, obsessed with our obsession with religion. PBS this coming week is jumping into the discourse with God in America, a documentary you can watch online.

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