Tuesday, November 28, 2006

View of God Determines Values

A recent Baylor University study postulated that it is not your religion but your view of God that determines your politics and your values. The study, conducted by Baylor's Institute for the Study of Religion, reviewed and analyzed the results of a poll survey of 1,721 Americans who were each asked 77 questions with 400 answer choices.

The survey results showed four distinct faces of God.

-About 31.4% believe in an Authoritarian God who is "angry at humanity's sins and who is engaged in every person's life and world affairs" and "ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on the unfaithful or ungodly." This view forms the core of the Religious Right and the conservative Republicans who support President George W. Bush.

According to Cathy Lynn Grossman, in her USA Today article about the Baylor study, believers in an Authoritarian God "want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools. They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall)."

-About 23% believe in a Benevolent God which is a forgiving God ("more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible") and believe that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. "God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," says Rev. Jeremy Johnston of the 5,000 member Southern Baptist Congregation in Kansas. This view of God is generally shared by liberal Democrats who favor government programs that provide a safety net for the disadvantaged in society.

-About 16% believe in a Critical God who has his "judgmental eye" on the world, but who will not intervene, either to punish or to comfort. According to Baylor's Christopher Bader, "this group is more paradoxical, They hold very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

Grossman writes that "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."

-About 24.4% believe in a Distant God who is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us" (Bader). They see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. Bader believes that this has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, among "moral relativists" - those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong - and among those who don't attend church.

How do Filipinos view God? Columnist Michael Tan suspects that a majority of Filipinos believe in a somewhat distant but intervening God, literally a "tatay" [father] in the stereotyped sense. Filipinos tend to believe that natural disasters and personal misfortunes are punishment from God for our sins. But, Tan writes, "we also tend to see our relationships with that God as negotiable. We bargain all the time, vowing to do several novenas or have ourselves nailed to the cross in Lent, on condition that a certain favor is granted."

It's really more confusing than that. Filipino Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity, in the concept of three Gods in one. This may be the source for our contradictory beliefs and values. We may believe in an Authoritarian God the Father, in a Benevolent God the Son, and in a somewhat Critical or Distant God the Holy Spirit. This convoluted view may account for the halo-halo (mixed up) nature of our politics and values.

Filipinos' mixed views and values aside, Baylor's Bader concludes that "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than by almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

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