A Baylor Study revealed that Americans have “two clear and distinct dimensions” in their beliefs about God:
Degree of God’s engagement: The extent to which God is directly and intimately involved in the life of each believer and in the lives of other humans.
Degree of God’s wrath: The extent by which God is angered by our sin and will punish us for our transgressions.
Since each of these dimensions can have a high or low value, the study talks in terms of Americans recognizing the existence of one out of four possible Gods:
Type A: Authoritarian God: (High engagement; high anger; believed in by 31.4% of the population.) God is viewed as being highly involved in each believer’s life. God guides believers to make proper decisions; God is responsible for major world events - tsunamis, etc; God is furious at human sinfulness and punishes sinners. Southerners; evangelicals; women; African Americans; persons with lower educational attainment and lower income, those who pray often and attend church frequently, and those who view God as a “he” tend to believe in this God more than the average American.
Type B: Benevolent God: (High engagement; low anger; believed in by 23% of the population.) As for Type A, God is active in everyone’s lives. But he is slow to anger and punish. Rather, he influences people positively. Mid-westerners, women, persons with lower educational attainment, lower income, who pray often and attend church frequently are more likely to believe in this God.
Type C: Critical God: (Low engagement; high anger; believed in by 16% of the population.) God does not interact much with the world. He is angered at sin but generally withholds punishment to be meted out in the afterlife. Easterners, men, persons with higher educational attainment, and persons with higher income are more likely than average to believe in this God.
Type D: Distant God: (Low engagement; low anger; believed in by 24.4% of the population.) This is similar to the God of the Deists: he is viewed as a cosmic force who created the universe and its natural laws. He is not involved much with the world and does not judge humans. West coasters, Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, men, persons with higher educational attainment, and persons with higher income are more likely than average to believe in this God.
The remaining 5.2% of the population not included above are strong Atheists who reject the existence of God.
The study analyzed the effects of gender, race, age, education, income, region, church attendance, frequency of prayer, religious tradition, and interpretation of the Bible. They found some groups in which the majority believed in the Type A authoritarian God:
68.0% of Black Protestants,
60.8% of biblical literalists,
56.1% of those who believe that God is a “He”,
52.8% of African Americans,
54.8% of those who pray several times a day,
52.3% of evangelical Protestants, and
50.9% of those who attend church weekly,
There were no groups of adults in which a majority believed in one of the other three types of Gods.
One might reach some shocking conclusions from the Baylor Religion Study:
Americans believe in four very different, incompatible conceptions of God.
Assuming that only one God actually exists, then
At least three of the God types listed above are false.
Most American adults believe in a type of God who is non-existent.
The vast majority of American adults base their belief in one of these four Gods — directly or indirectly — on the contents of the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament and New Testament). Thus, it appears that either:
The Bible is ambiguous when it describes the nature of God.
Faith groups have been doing a poor job at education.
Prayer is obviously ineffective in assessing the nature of God. If it did work, then essentially all believers in God would quickly gravitate away from at least three of the four Gods to a more accurate viewpoint. This conclusion is in harmony with the results of a pilot study among this website’s visitors. That study showed that believers cannot assess the will of God through prayer.