Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Regional God Concepts in America

Somehow I basically missed the Baylor Religion Survey of 2006. One of its findings is that concepts of God do tend to differ from region to region in the US, and that this variation does have an impact on other factors relating to life, including politics.

So some of the questions in this survey asked in relation to two features of God--his tendency to get angry and God's level of engagement with the world. This resulted in four basic types of God-view.
  • High engagement, low anger results in a more or less "benevolent" picture of God.
  • High engagement, high anger results in an "authoritarian" view of God.
  • Low engagement, high anger yields a "critical" God.
  • Low engagement, low anger would give a "distant" God.
By region, the basic breakdown of God concept was:
  • Most Americans fit in the authoritarian category (31.4%).
  • A second group (24.4%) see God as distant.
  • Third were those who see God as benevolent (23%).
  • Next are those who see him as critical (16%).
  • Finally, 5.2% are atheist.
By region, it turns out in this way:
  • 43% of those who live in the South believe in an authoritarian God.
  • The Midwest had its highest number there too (32.5%) but had a more significant number who had a more benevolent conception (28.8%).
  • The highest number for the West was the distant God (30.3).
  • Finally, the East was more evenly distributed, with 25.8% in the distant category, 25.5% in the authoritarian category, 21.2 in the critical category, and 19.9 in the benevolent category. This is the group with the most having a view of God as critical.
  • The East (7.5%) and West (7.9%) had the most atheists.
  • African-Americans especially had an authoritarian conception of God (52.8%).
These views of God significantly affect the way people view social and political issues.

Moving beyond the study, I think theological traditions also tend toward various God concepts. The Wesleyan tradition should intrinsically lean toward the benevolence of God. You would expect the Calvinist tradition to be more authoritarian or critical in flavor. Liberal Protestantism might lean more toward the distant God, although possibly toward God's benevolence.

Politically, you might expect Wesleyan-Arminians to lean more toward libertarian and state's rights on non-moral issues and issues of disputed morality. But you might expect them to lean more toward the protectionist of others on issues where human harm is potentially involved. You might expect the Calvinist to be more in favor of forcing the Christian ideal on everyone, as well as to have a strong view of enforcing the law and punishing law-breakers.

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