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Four views of God

Oct. 12, 2010

Book examines what Americans believe, and why

By Meghan Hendrickson
Staff Writer

"America's Four Gods: What We Say about God - and What That Says about Us," co-authored by two Baylor sociology professors, has received widespread national publicity for its exploration of Americans' views of a God as a God of authority, benevolence, distance or criticism.

The book is an exploration of what people believe about God, as far as what America thinks God's personality is like and what Americans believe he cares about, said Dr. Christopher Bader, associate professor of sociology and co-author of the book.

Bader and Dr. Paul Froese, associate professor of sociology, began writing the book because they noticed that a lot of the discussions in the national press about religion seemed to focus on the religious debates between evangelicals and atheists.

"That's really not where the debates are in this country," Bader said. "Ninety-five percent of Americans believe in God. The disagreement is what people believe about God. Evangelicals are unified, but disagree about what God is like, as do Catholics."

This book is intended for a general audience. It is based on very detailed statistical analyses, but Bader said that information is hidden in the back of the book for those who want to read further into the statistics.

"It's a fascinating account of a very popular topic," Dr. Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology, said. "People are interested in conceptions of God and who believes in God, and this book unpacks both those views and the implications of those views in how people live their lives. Unlike some other academic writing that is very dry and filled with tables of numbers, this is a very engaging book that has provocative stories as well as sound statistics. It is fun to read."

Bader said some of the most interesting things that he and Froese learned in writing their book were what the two most important characteristics of God are to Americans.

The first characteristic was people's beliefs about how engaged God is in the world, Bader said. Some people believe God is very personal and interested in helping them, while others believe he is more removed from the world.

"Americans really differ on this characteristic," Bader said. "All across the spectrum there are people who believe God is intimately involved in their lives. For instance, if they get over a cold or get a new job, they believe that is God. On the other hand, there are people across the spectrum who find that hard to believe."

The second characteristic was people's beliefs about God's judgement.

"People's view on this characteristic of God is one of the most important predictors about how they are going to feel about moral and political issues," Bader said.

Bader and Froese also created "The God Test," which can be found at AmericasFourGods.com. The test asks a series of questions about God's personality. Once completed, participants can discover what their view of God is and how many other Americans believe in the same God.

Krum junior Chelsi Patterson took "The God Test" to find out whether her view of God is critical, distant, benevolent or authoritative, the four views mentioned in the book.

"My view of God is benevolent," Patterson said.

"This didn't surprise me because I believe that the Lord definitely has his hand in the affairs of the world, but that he is not judgmental and wants people to come to him without the fear of wrath but with a view of grace and mercy."