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September 15, 2006

Four Gods...Plus

We've talked before about the many Jesuses. Here, from a Baylor/Gallup survey reported in USA Today, are four Gods Americans believe in:

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. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," [Baylor's Christopher] Bader says. Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says. They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).
The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, [Sociologist Paul] Froese says.
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. Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or 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 on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.

There's a kind of progression here: toward a more and more "wan" Deity. Perhaps the next steps in the progression would be:

The We-Need-Some-Sense-of-Meaning God -- otherwise, as Nietzsche puts it, the earth would be "unchained" from the sun.
God as an Idea -- a beautiful one, Dostoyevsky's Ivan Karamazov insists.
The Metaphoric God, who may not exist but is a useful way of thinking of certain existential and moral questions.
The God Who Makes for a Good Story -- life, presumably, seeming more interesting if we pretend He's around.
The We-Got-to-Hang-On-to-Something-that-Might-Remotely-Qualify-as-a-God God -- otherwise we'd be atheists.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at September 15, 2006 6:47 PM


I'm voting for the 'we gotta get outta this place' god..... man. This is way too much stuff to deal with, atheist or not (no?)

Posted by: JM at September 15, 2006 10:46 PM

Great insight==right on. And I suppose you mean "progression" literally, not merely as range, but progress from "hot" (in McLuhan's sense) to wan and cool. One thing for sure, this range of gods doesn't map chronologically.

postscript, re previous posts on the writing process: did you see last Sunday's NYT magazine's excerpts from Susan Sontag's journal, with incredible observations about writing?

Posted by: george at September 16, 2006 3:16 AM

G = Number of Gods
B = number of believers in one God
S = number of people who believe in more than one God
M = the average number of Gods believed in by those who believe in more than one God
A = those who do not believe in God
U = those who are agnostic

G = B + (S * M) - A (+or-)U

Based on the assumption that no two people hold the same concept of God(s)--which I believe to be true.

Or as Carl Sagan would say, "Billlllions and Billlions" of Gods.

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 16, 2006 1:56 PM

which of these (if any) do you think the God of the bible is? Why?

Posted by: Chris Oldfield at September 17, 2006 5:01 PM

Has anyone thought that maybe there is a "God" type being that is very powerful (OK not all powerful :-) ) and travels the universe or maybe just this galaxy righting wrong, and just generally playing around. However, considering the size of our galaxy, maybe he only comes by, say every 10,000 years.

Maybe we are on our own for the next 7,993 years!!

Maybe by the time he gets back we will be all gone and he will say, "Gee, and I had such high hopes for those evolved monkees. They were doing so much better than those dinosaurs."

Oh, well. LOL who knows.

Elder Norm

Posted by: Elder Norm at September 20, 2006 2:14 PM

Actually I read a SiFi book long ago that had Jesus popping up on different planets, so, yes, someone has thought of that myth extension.

Any being with those attributes would care less about righting what we call wrongs. Do you care about the everyday life or a roach?

It is not at all unreasonable to imagine entities of consciousness that are present right here in our world that are not any more aware of us than we are of them. What if water or rocks think one thought every 100 years? If they are aware of us at all it is probably as a short-lived virus. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes could be acts comparable to our chemotherapy.

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 20, 2006 2:48 PM

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