Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Sunday, September 25, 2011

God and Morality

Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, both sociology professors from Baylor, published a book last year called America’s Four Gods. Their work analyzed a survey of American views on God, breaking the poll data into four kinds of Gods:

1) The Authoritative God: A God who is both engaged in the world and judgmental about our actions.
2) The Benevolent God: A God who is engaged in the world but who makes no judgmental calls on our actions.
3) The Critical God: A God who is not engaged in the world but who is judgmental about our actions.
4) The Distant God: A God who is neither engaged in the world nor who makes judgments on our actions.

Obviously the Baylor professors focus on American’s perspective of how engaged in our affairs God is and how concerned He is about our actions. By their results, Froese and Bader found that over half of those surveyed view God as either Benevolent or Authoritative. All four views of God, however, present God in a transcendent manner – that God does not exist in matter but rather outside our material universe. How involved He is becomes another matter. What’s more, no one in the survey imaged this transcendent God in feminine terms. Given God’s transcendence, God is viewed as masculine, probably masculine, uncertain, or not applicable.

Overall, the emphasis on God’s transcendent nature is helpful for Americans to step away from a pantheist conception of God – but the study showed that the more transcendent one views God, the more he is inclined to reject a moral law written by God into nature or revealed by God through religion. The results show that only believers in an authoritative God also believed that the Ten Commandments really mean what they say, that adultery, homosexuality, abortion, and stem cell research were really sinful. Belief in the Distant God, strikingly similar to Deism, can easily lead one to practical atheism and a Dostoyevsky-sounding principle that: If God is distant enough, anything is permissible.

Which brings me to a final point on morality and God.

Christian Smith, currently a sociology professor at Notre Dame, coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe commonly held religious beliefs of American youth. This belief reduces religion to a morality of good feelings, leaving out particular theological doctrines and keeping God out of human affairs unless we have a particular problem. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not particularly defined in America’s Four Gods, but if it is the predominant view of our youth, we will certainly see it enter into future surveys. This new belief may be a sign that Americans are moving further away from the New Age pantheism of the 1960s-1980s, but arming our youth with a mere belief in good feelings leaves them such an empty morality that almost none will have a moral foundation when they encounter real temptation and real evil.

For more on God, morality, and American youth, check out this article by Dennis Prager called: Why young Americans can’t think morally. Another thought-proving article on this topic is by Rod Dreher, called: The soft barbarism of young America.

No comments:

Post a Comment