Sunday, January 09, 2011

America's Four Gods

This is the introduction to a sermon that I have posted to by the same title:

Who does the grocery shopping for your household. I admire those who regularly wage the grocery store battles. Last year, I was part of the MOVE weight loss program at the Binghamton V.A. Health Clinic. Now, I know that you’re saying to yourself, “why would Fr. Tony need to be involved in a weight loss program?”

One session of the MOVE program was devoted to a video that explained grocery store marketing. The video took us through a typical grocery store beginning with the produce section. About every grocery store I’ve ever been in gets you started with the produce section, and this is a good thing since produce is good for us. The video explained how endcaps generate increased sales of the items placed in them and how eye level placement in aisles also increases sales. Folks, with all the marketing expertise that is employed at the grocery store we don’t have a chance!

Honestly, for me, a grocery store is sensory overload. They’re almost as bad as a Chucky Cheese, although Chucky Cheese is sound and sight and a grocery store is more reliant on sight alone. There are so many choices between similar products it can be baffling. Similar products come in different sizes and weights with different prices and nuances in ingredients. It’s all too much. How do you regular grocery shoppers do it?

There’s a similar complexity in the American religious landscape. Roughly 90% of Americans believe in God and about 85% of Americans believe that God is loving. However, after that the homogeneity of belief vanishes.

Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader looked at the wide range of beliefs about God in America and determined that this hodgepodge of ideas could fit under four headings. In America’s Four Gods, Froese and Bader offer two questions that they believe lead to the four most prevalent conceptions of God in the United States.

Question #1 is “To what extent does God interact with the world.” [Note: quotes and information on America’s Four Gods is from the Christianity Today book review by Matthew Lee Anderson, “The Divine Divide,” which can be accessed at]

Question #2 is “To what extent does God judge the world?”

From the answers to these two questions Froese and Bader teased out America’s four Gods.

God #1 is “the authoritative God, who both judges and is closely engaged in the world.” This God is like the stereotypes God the Cop and God the Judge.

God #2 is “the benevolent God who is ‘engaged but nonjudgmental.’” This is the Santa Claus God or God the Loving Grandfather.

God #3 is “the critical God, who happens to be judgmental but disengaged. I call this the bad mother in law God. Before you throw things, notice that I said bad mother in law. I’m sure that there aren’t any bad mother in laws here.

God #4 is “the distant God, who is neither engaged nor judgmental and could care less about how humans muck about.” I call this the Slumlord God.

Who is God for you?