A Look at the 4 Ways Americans View God

New book examines American's perception of God.

October 7, 2010, 8:21 AM

Oct. 7, 2010 — -- When children are asked to draw God, they come up with a variety of images -- a man on a throne, a smiley face, a shining sun or maybe a cross-legged Buddha type.

It turns out their parents visualize the same things too.

According to a new book called "America's Four Gods" by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, the way Americans view of God falls into four categories.

Froese and Bader, both professors at Baylor University, used polling data from a 2008 survey to break down how Americans believe in God.

The survey showed that about 28 percent of Americans believe in an "authoritative God."

"Someone who has an authoritative God believes in a God that is very judgmental and very engaged in the world at the same time," said Bader, adding that they also tend to be evangelical and male.

For 22 percent of Americans, mostly evangelical women, they characterize the almighty as a "benevolent God" who is thoroughly involved in their lives but is loving, not stern.

"It's definitely a personal relationship, like a friendship, like a companionship," said Alesia Upton, when asked by ABC News in Chicago. "Just in case somebody's not there for you, he's always there."

Others believe in a "critical God" who is removed from daily events but will render judgment in the afterlife.

"We find a strong tendency for African-Americans, for people who are at lower levels of income and education to believe in the 'critical God,'" said Bader.

The fourth and final way that those surveyed view God is a "distant God" who set the universe in motion, but then disengaged.

"These tend to be higher educated, more 'spiritual' people," said Froese.

Froese and Bader argued that such questions are not merely academic. They claimed that the way a person views God profoundly impacts one's morals, behavior and politics.

For example, President George W. Bush's talk of evil is more likely to resonate in believers in an engaged, judgmental God.

"My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it.," Bush said in an interview with CNN shortly after Sept. 11. "We will rid the world of the evildoers"

They also are more likely to view natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina as God's punishment.

Believers in a distant God are apt to be less suspicious of science and more likely to agree with Benjamin Franklin's assertion that a "supremely perfect" God doesn't care one bit "for such an inconsiderable nothing as man."

"A person's conception of God is central to how they perceive their world and behave in it," said Froese.

These questions about how we conceive of God unlock our most basic values and, often, tap into our childlike imagination about who or what created the universe.

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