America’s Four Gods

America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — & What That Says About Us is a book published in 2010, written by Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.[1] The book was based on a 2005 survey of religious views, which suggested that Americans’ conceptions of God fall into four different classes.[2] Further, they report, American’s views on political, moral and scientific issues are usually tied to their conception of God.[3]

America’s Four Gods
Author Paul Froese, Christopher Bader
Language English
Subject God
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
2010
ISBN

978-0-19-534147-8

The four different conceptions of God described in the book are the ‘authoritative’, ‘benevolent’, ‘critical’ and ‘distant’ God.[4]

Individuals who conceive of an authoritative God and a benevolent God both see God as taking an interventionist role in believers’ lives. They differ, however, in how they see God intervening.[4] Those who conceive of an authoritative God imagine God intervenes to punish those who lapse from his rules, and are likely to be white males.

Those who conceive of a benevolent God imagine God intervenes to rescue and present alternatives, and are likely to be female.

Individuals who conceive of a critical God imagine he does not intervene in individuals lives, but will judge them in an afterlife. Statistically black Americans are more likely to hold this conception.[4]

Those who believe in a distant God imagine that God set the entire Universe in motion, but has no engagement with humanity at all.[4] Americans who hold this conception are statistically likely to have completed more years of education than those in the other three groups.

In summary:

Conception of God Perceived role of God Typical believer
Authoritative God intervenes to punish those who violate his rules White males
Benevolent God intervenes to rescue and offer options Females
Critical God does not intervene in lives, but judges in afterlife Black Americans
Distant God created Universe but does not engage with mankind More educated

Father Patrick J. Howell, a Jesuit writing in The Seattle Times, noted that the four conceptions of God were represented by followers of Judaism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.[1] He also wrote:

Some would have us believe, Froese and Bader argue, that American society is engaged in a titanic struggle between “true believers” and the “godless.” But the two authors note that only 5 percent are atheists, and they identify four, mostly contradictory, views of God as the source for the intractable social and political divisions among Americans.

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  1. Patrick J. Howell (2010-10-22). “Americans split on the kind of God they believe in”. Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2012-05-16. They show that regardless of religious tradition (Jew, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim), the great divide falls out around belief in four distinct deities: the Authoritative God, who is engaged with the world and judgmental; the Benevolent God, who loves and aids us in spite of our failings; the Critical God, who catalogs our sins but does not punish them (at least not in this life); and the Distant God, who stands apart from the world. Such views shape one’s worldview and one’s moral, political convictions.
  2. Dan Harris, Enjoli Francis (2010-10-07). “A look at the four ways Americans view God”. ABC News. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 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.
  3. Cathy Lynn Grossman (2010-10-07). “Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues”. USA Today. Retrieved 2012-05-16. Surveys say about nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, but the way we picture that God reveals our attitudes on economics, justice, social morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics, love and more, say Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, sociologists at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Their new book, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us, examines our diverse visions of the Almighty and why they matter.
  4. Matthew Lee Anderson (2010-11-15). “The Divine Divide: The gods of America, and the difference they make”. Christianity Today. Respondents’ answers lead the authors to identify four conceptions of God among the American religious public: (1) the authoritative God, who both judges and is closely engaged in the world; (2) the benevolent God, who is “engaged but nonjudgmental”; (3) the critical God, who happens to be judgmental but disengaged; and (4) the distant God, who is neither engaged nor judgmental, and could [sic] care less about how humans muck about.

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