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America's Four Gods

According to the authors of the book America's Four Gods, Americans differ widely from one another on two key areas of belief about God: (1) the level of God's engagement in our world, and (2) the extent of God's judgment of evildoers.

In other words, is God actively and meticulously engaged in what happens in your life and in your world? Or is he distant, remote, uncaring? And secondly, does God judge wrongdoers in this life? Does God express wrath toward people and nations in this age? Or is God only kind, forgiving, and helpful to people in need?

Based on those two differences, the authors say that Americans divide into four major understandings of God.

First is the Authoritative God. The Authoritative God is very involved in the world to help people and does judge evildoers in this life. Even so, he is loving, and is seen as a Father figure. The author's research shows that 31 percent of Americans have this understanding of God.

Second is the Benevolent God. The Benevolent God is very involved in this world to help people but does not feel anger toward evildoers and does not judge anyone. Twenty-four percent of Americans have this understanding of God.

Third is the Critical God. The Critical God does not involve himself in the affairs of this world or its people, but he does take careful note of how people live and will judge them in the afterlife, holding them to account for evils done. Sixteen percent of Americans have this understanding of God.

Fourth is the Distant God. The Distant God is more a cosmic force or Higher Power than a person. This God created everything but is no longer engaged with the world and does not judge its inhabitants. Twenty-four percent of Americans have this understanding of God.

Five percent of Americans are atheists.

Concerning agnostics, the authors write: "We find that when pressed, individuals who first describe themselves as 'agnostic' are actually believers in a Distant God. For the most part, agnosticism is a reaction to conventional images of God that strike the believer as mistaken."

After describing these four beliefs about God, the authors explore at length how our beliefs about God affect our beliefs and values about morality, society, science, money and possessions, evil, warfare, and the culture wars.

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