University Congregational Church
Aug. 25, 2019
America’s Four Gods: The Future of God
I Peter 1: 13-16, 22-25a
In the years since their initial research, Paul Froese & Christopher Bader have found some interesting trends. From 2005 to 2014, there have been changes in attitudes and beliefs about God. In your bulletin is a chart showing these trends. I’m very excited about sharing their findings with you because I think you will find them fascinating.
• Some may cause you to shake your head in affirmation.
• Others may make you grimace because you hate to admit that it could be true.
• And you may disagree.
Froese & Bader aren’t predicting the future, per say, but they are showing what can happen if the trends about our beliefs in God continue to follow the changes indicated from 2004-2015.
A reminder about the categories:
The Authoritative God – one who is both engaged and judgmental
The Benevolent God – one who is engaged but not judgmental
The Critical God – one who is not engaged but judgmental
The Distant God – one who is not engaged or judgmental
You will notice that the number of believers in an Authoritative God and a Benevolent God has fallen. The number of believers in a Distant God has grown. And the percentage of atheists has also grown. This corresponds to a dramatic shift in attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In the past few years, acceptance of the LGBTQ community has increased.
The change, according to Froese and Bader, is that “while most (Americans) still believe in God, a growing number feel that God doesn’t decree strict moral codes but rather endows each of us with the authority to make our own moral choices, one of which is the decision to view same-sex relationships as socially acceptable.” We are becoming less absolutist about sex and God.
As Americans, we talk about empathizing with the poor, but we do so from a capitalist perspective. My eyes were opened to this after traveling in Russia. They are new at capitalism and their ideas of hospitality and taking care of one another are much more developed than ours.
In the United States, if there is a reduction in a judgmental God, we will see less call for the government to fund social services provided by religious organizations. Those who believe in less judgmental Gods prefer that the government take care of addressing economic inequality. Our beliefs about God truly impact our policy and our voting. As we plan for our outreach programs at UCC, we are wise to consider these trends.
Froese & Bader noted that a person’s wealth reduces the extent that a person views God as judgmental. But when a person – especially a male – experiences economic hardship, their God is angry and judgmental. When income inequality expands or when economic downturns occur, working class males feel more and more alienated. Their beliefs about God tend to mirror their frustrations with the state of the economy. As we have discussed, this affects their morality; their political views; and their positions on public policy and national security.
You have all probably heard that church attendance is dwindling and most people have less affiliation with a specific denomination. Americans who are “spiritual but not religious” tend to be believers in a Distant God. They also defer to academic science in their understanding of the natural world. This number is growing. As this number grows, Froese & Bader say that currently unpopular moral topics may gain more traction with the general public – topics like:
* abortion rights
* legalization of marijuana
* civil liberties for LGBTQ people
* new sentencing guidelines for criminal acts, and so forth.
Much has been said about intelligent design and evolution, especially when it comes to what is taught in our schools. For people who believe in an Authoritative or Benevolent God, God is above the natural order and is not subject to the laws of nature. They tend to feel that scientists ignore the elevated position God holds. In contrast, believers in a Critical or Distant God see God as part of the natural order and believe scientific theories reveal the true essence of God. Science doesn’t threaten their faith, but provides a richer and more interesting path to God.
With an increasing number of believers in a Benevolent God, we will see pressure put on scientists to consider the role of God in their studies. There will also be more lobbying to teach intelligent design or creationism in public schools. These will be hot-button issues because Americans say we value science but we continue to want to walk the tightrope between religious authority and scientific research.
I found this part of the book very appealing and stimulating. I was excited about reading it and then I pondered every aspect of it and became a bit paralyzed. As I thought about it, I realized that my fear stemmed from the question of whether the differences we have in belief might continue to polarize us to the point of destruction.
I believe with all of my heart that we all worship the same God – but that we understand this God differently and uniquely. We need to understand and bless our differences because they can be a blessing, but they can have tragic consequences if we allow them to get out of control. Tragedy comes when we disagree so fundamentally that conflict divides us into bitter enemies and we forget that we are together on this journey of faith. Our similarities have to outweigh our differences. Our humanity, our respect for one another, and our belief in a loving God has to be greater than our unique understandings of how God works in the world. If we keep this priority as the highest calling, then I believe our future is full of hope! Listen to this admonition from I Peter, who challenges his listeners with these words:
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.” I Peter 1: 13-16, 22-25a
Froese, Paul & Bader, Christopher. America’s Four God’s; What We Say about God- And What That Says About Us. Oxford University Press: 2010