CommunityPam's House Blend

Faith, politics and the South's 'authoritarian' God

Chris Kromm of Facing South blogs about an interesting Raleigh N&O; series on faith and the South, based on a Baylor study of Americans’ religious attitudes. One of the findings I’ve seen mentioned in various articles about this study is that Americans are less secular than many have speculated.

Only 11 percent of Americans are not affiliated with a congregation, denomination or other religious group, the Baylor researchers found — less than the 14 percent commonly cited. And most of them believe in God or some higher power.

While that figure is interesting, the N&O; article sheds light on another stat that says a lot about why the South is home to a more punishing angry God than much of the rest of the country.

The survey split people’s views of God into four types — authoritarian, benevolent, critical and distant — after asking respondents a series of questions about God’s character and behavior.

You can see the breakdown and definition in this chart.

And guess what? The South by far holds the belief that God is an Authoritarian figure — 44% believe this and only 31% of all Americans have similar views. What also holds true, Baylor researchers found, is that political views can be accurately predicted based on which view of God is held.

“If I took two 40-year-old African-American women living in the South, one with a distant view of God and another with an authoritarian view of God, I can predict their views on all kinds of issues,” said Paul Froese, a professor of sociology at Baylor University and one of the survey’s lead researchers.

Those who believe in an authoritarian God were nearly twice as likely as those with other views of God to believe abortion is always wrong, for example. They also tended to oppose same-sex marriage and to approve of the death penalty.

The same goes for political affiliation. The survey found that 56 percent of people with an authoritarian view of God said they were Republicans, while 49 percent of people with a distant view of God were Democrats.

The fact that the Triangle area is progressive in comparison to most of the rest of the state, for instance, may have a lot to do with people from other parts of the country who have come here to live and work in recent years.

Though the survey showed that many people in the South held the authoritarian view, people with a distant view of God — about 22 percent of Southerners — came in second. These people, some of whom may be among the steady flow of transplants to the region, believe God is not active or angry. To them God is a cosmic force that set the laws of nature in motion but does not hold clear opinions about world events.

If you look at this N&O; chart, it really is striking how the authoritarian view is true to the views we see in the Bush hardcore 30% sheeple:

* 63.1% believe the war in Iraq is justified
* 53.7% think Saddam was involved in 9/11
* 76.4% support expansion of government authority to fight terrorism
* 80.6% believe gay marriage is wrong

Chris makes an interesting point that these findings resemble Lakoff’s view of the ideological divide:

What’s interesting is how this lines up with what Berkeley linguist George Lakoff — who made the issue of “framing” all the rage a few years ago — has argued, about conservative vs. progressive politics being a clash between “strict father” vs. “nurturant parent” worldviews. The “authoritarian God” described in the Baylor study sounds very similar to Lakoff’s “strict father,” and the political results are nearly identical.

If so, the political “frames” of conservatives may have deeper roots than Lakoff acknowledges, especially in the South. They aren’t just the product of media spin or political positioning: among a significant share of the population, they are learned at a young age, and reinforced in the powerful cultural crucible of the church over the course of a lifetime.

Previous post

Next post

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding