But which God? 5

Your image of God shapes how you look at economic issues, and I say this as a result of reading Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God–and What That Says about Us. Once again, they have found Americans can be mapped on four views of God: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical, and Distant.

Americans overwhelmingly think we should help the poor, but how to help the poor varies dramatically, and that how is shaped in part by how one sees God.

An example they focus on is government funding for faith-based initiatives. Thus, those with these views of God believe in govt funding with that percent of support:

Authoritative (47%), Benevolent (25%), Critical (32%), Distant (13%).

Americans with the the lowest incomes have the angriest and most judgmental Gods. Americans who believe in a Distant God make the most money. The lower income people think God is angry with them (they also think God is angry with the wealthy for injustice) but it’s not because God can’t help them — it’s because they don’t deserve it (115). They interpret their financial condition through the lens of their view of God. Critical and Distant types think it’s more up to their own efforts; Authoritative and Benevolent think God is more directly involved in their financial condition.

Those who believe in the Authoritative God think most social problems require religious solutions; those with a less judgmental God tend to think there are secular solutions.What about distribution?

For those who make $35,000 or less … what percent strongly believe government should distribute wealth more evenly?

Authority (23%), Benevolent (28), Critical (23), Distant (35), Atheist (40)

For those who make $100,000 and more:

Authority (5%), Benevolent (12), Critical (9), Distant (9), Atheist (6).

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  • Diane

    I’m not surprised that people who are poor would want the “invisible hand” of government to offer them aid since, as I can imagine it can be quite humiliating to go begging for help to relatives or friends.

  • Tim


    Did you get a chance to review any of the fact-checking I did on your previous “But Which God? 4” post?

  • Shannen

    I find it interesting that the authors found 40% of Atheists who make less than 35k believe strongly that government should distribute wealth more evenly. As an outreach minister I wonder if this is because they have never been showered with gifts from their local church, or if it’s simply because even though their local church reaches out to the community, they still think the government should be more involved. Something to chew on anyway. 🙂

    To Diane in #1, Most people who live at or under the poverty level seldom beg. I live in Michigan and see many people who have been financially “stable” finding they are having to ask for help from the government or family or their church. I don’t see it as “begging” but simply trying to take care of their families. There is a stigma placed on our low income families that produces misplaced shame on those who are truly making an effort. If someone is hungry even after working 40 hours a week, one does not care if the “hand” is invisible or not.

  • smcknight

    Tim, yes I saw your note and I thought I said that I was summarizing the statistical observations of the authors of this book. Let’s not get lost in a tree when the issue is the forest — namely, that post was about how one’s view of God impacts one’s view of science.

    Their study was in part rooted in a Newsweek poll where 69% of those who believed in evolution (43% were in this category) thought God guided the process. They used the word “many” but it seems to me this means “most.”

    I’m now officially done with the discussion of this statistical particularity. I’m summarizing a book’s conclusions.

  • The 40% figure for atheists is interesting. I wonder if that isn’t skewed by grad students, while the 23% figure is skewed by citizens in smaller towns, who would be more likely to embrace the authoritative model.

    I’d also be curious as to why the author conflates “authoritative” and “angry”. Again, not sure someone living in small town midwest would make that connection, and they are disproportionately going to make less than 35k per year.

  • Darren King


    I wonder if anyone’s done a study comparing people’s perceptions of God before and after an income increase. In other words, of those who imagine a distant God, what percentage of them came to that conclusion before becoming relatively well-off, as opposed to later? Perhaps this could be done by comparing perceptions in college as opposed to later in life.

  • Tim


    The “many” was actually exactly 24%.

    If you had read further than just my first post you would have understood that. But, as you have made very clear that you don’t want to get bogged down in statistical facts, this probably doesn’t matter to you.

    I would note that I also addressed the central point of your post concerning believer’s attitudes toward science.

  • DRT


    You say “Americans who believe in a Distant God make the most money.” Is this just of those who believe in God or does it include atheists (i.e. are atheists also well compensated). This could get at kevin s. querry.

  • smcknight


    Distant God and Atheists are two different categories. So, no.

  • I’m not sure that it is really a matter of how we view God that shapes our view of economic things, rather, it is the pervasiveness of economic things that shapes how we perceive God.