Sunday, October 12, 2008

One Nation, Four Gods

According to the recent Baylor University study on American religious beliefs, values, and behaviors, our beliefs about God are among the clearest indicators of how we will vote in this year’s presidential election. The Baylor study argues for four different “American theologies” what I will call the engaged and malevolent God, the engaged and benevolent God, the distant and disengaged God, and the distant and judgmental God.

The engaged and malevolent God is the God who punished the Jews with the Holocaust because they were not sufficiently observant; the God who decimated New Orleans with hurricane Katrina because the people there were wicked and lax in their hatred of homosexuality; and the God who used the horror of 9/11 to punish Americans for their support of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. According to the Baylor study, people who believe in the engaged and malevolent God vote Republican. This does not mean that all Republicans believe in the engaged and malevolent God, only that the vast majority of such believers align themselves with the Republican Party.

The engaged and benevolent God is the God who helped some Jews survive the Holocaust, and who rescued some people during Katrina and 9/11. This God is forgiving and loving, rather than angry and judgmental, and is actively involved in doing good in the world. People who believe in this God lean Republican, but may vote Democratic.

The distant and disengaged God is the God who created the universe but takes no active role in it. This is Einstein’s God, or the God of the Deists. This is the Force of Star Wars, and the Tao of the Chinese Taoists. You do not pray to this God to make things other than they are, nor do you imagine that things are as they are because God is making them as they are to teach us a lesson. People who believe in this God vote Democratic.

The distant and judgmental God does not intervene in the doings of nature or of humans on this earth, but is waiting to reward and punish us after we die. This God, like the engaged and malevolent God has strict moral code to which we are held accountable, but, unlike the engaged and malevolent God, this God’s judgment is reserved for the after life not this life. People who believe in the distant and judgmental God lean Democratic but may vote Republican.

Of course not everyone believes in God. Four percent of Americans are atheists, but this number is so small as to make the impact of atheism almost negligible. I suspect that the popularity of the New Atheists reflects not the rise of atheism among Americans, but the savvy marketing strategy of believers in the engaged and malevolent God who see in these often bellicose authors the perfect foil for their own theology, and a great way to galvanize their base in what seemed to be a waning of the Culture War.

The Culture War, in fact, is not really a conflict pitting secularists and atheists against theists and people of faith, but rather a civil war among theists. The Culture War is a theological war over competing ideas of God.

Which side am I on? If these are my only choices, I would have to side with the distant and disengaged God folks, but I am not really convinced they are right. For me God is both transcendent and imminent. For me nature is that aspect of God available to us through our senses and our technology. God is not in the world, God is the world, and that which is greater than the world. I believe that natural laws and moral principles are imbedded in reality, though I limit conversations about ethics and morals to the human domain. Animals and plants are not moral or immoral, but humans can be both. And while I do not believe God consciously acts to reward or punish either in this life or after it, I do believe that most of us find more happiness when we act in accordance with divine principles such as justice and compassion than when we act in violation of them.

So, if you want to know for whom your neighbors are voting, don’t be so crass as to ask them outright; ask instead about their understanding of God. Given my theology, for whom will I vote this November? Barack Obama. It also helps that he is pro-science, pro-Green, pro-education, pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-diplomacy, and incapable of giving simplistic answers to really complex issues.


Karen said...

I'm of the distant and disengaged variety myself, although I'm not particularly thrilled with this finite definition. God is way too big to be molded so finely! And, yes, I will be voting for Barack Obama. So far, two for two -- I guess their study has some validity.

The way I feel about God, the universe, who I am, and who everyone else is is not so easily separated in my mind since I believe we are all one with God... that God is ALL. Sometimes I feel that my every waking thought is about my spiritual journey, how I relate to others, how the world relates back, and trying to continuously live my life in a way that reflects my spiritual beliefs... my spiritual journey... my spiritual self... God. In my heart and mind, even my political leanings come from the very core of my spiritual beliefs.

Since I'm of the mind that God is ALL, then I guess God gets 4 votes in this next election! Wish I could get 4...

Patti said...

I guess if we are forced to choose one of these Gods, distant and disengaged would be the best choice. However, in real life we aren't forced to choose what others label. My choice would be proximal and engaging. We are all part of the one, and we can experience that presence.

For whom would a follower of the 5th God vote? In this election, it is quite clear, for God is change! ;0)

Rabbi Rami said...

Karen, there is a new book out that you might really enjoy. It is called Standing in the Light, My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Russell. Check it out when you get a chance.

Aron said...

I'm voting for Obama, but admittedly with less and less enthusiasm over time. As a model agnostic, I'd place the highest probability of belief in the distant and disengaged category, but as others, not very enthusiastically, either. That's really the only possibility from a nontheist, isn't it?

Karen said...

Thank you for the book suggestion, Rabbi Rami. I look forward to reading it!

Anders said...

Hello! I found your website. My name is Anders Branderud, I am 23 years and I am from Sweden.

You write about Christ; but you haven't yet realized that the historical pro-Torah Ribi Yehoshua and the post-135 C.E. anti-Torah Christ is two different persons.

So who then was the historical Jesus?

The first century pro-Torah Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah - said:

"Don't think that I came to uproot the Torah or the Neviim [prophets], but rather I came to reconcile them with the Oral Law of emet (truth). Should the heavens and ha-aretz (the land, particularly referring to Israel) exchange places, still, not even one ' (yod) nor one ` (qeren) of the Oral Law of Mosheh shall so much as exchange places; until it shall become that it is all being fully ratified and performed non-selectively. For whoever deletes one Oral Law from the Torah, or shall teach others such, by those in the Realm of the heavens he shall be called "deleted." Both he who preserves and he who teaches them shall be called Ribi in the Realm of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your Tzedaqah (righteousness) is over and above that of the Sophrim and of the [probably 'Herodian'] Rabbinic-Perushim (corrupted to "Pharisees"), there is no way you will enter into the Realm of the heavens! “
Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu 5:17-20.

For words that you don’t understand; se ; the link to Glossaries at the first page.

Ribi Yehoshua warned for false prophets who don’t produce good fruit = defined as don’t practise the commandments in Torah according to Halakhah (oral Torah). See Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:1-6.

If you don’t follow Ribi Yehoshuas Torah-teachings, than you don’t follow Ribi Yehoshua.
So you need to start follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – by practising Torah!!

Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee Ribi and following him brings you into Torah, which gives you a rich and meaningful life here on earth and great rewards in life after death (“heaven”)!

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim in Ra’anana in Israel ( who are followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism

AaronHerschel said...


Welcome to Toto. I think you'll find, if you look over the Rabbi's previous posts, as well as the extensive theological discussions on the companion site, Mount and Mountain, that the historical Jesus does in fact play quite a central role here and on the sister site.