Asking the right God question

Gregory Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times:

That’s a far cry from the tenor of today’s brand of assertive atheism. According to surveys, atheists make up only about 4% of the U.S. population, or about 5 million adults, who tend to be more educated and affluent than believers. But thanks to a slew of bestselling, God-debunking books and Maher’s new film, “Religulous,” in which the comedian lampoons religious beliefs, atheism has never had a higher profile in this country.

And, of course, you could ascribe at least some of the resurgence of assertive atheism to a backlash against evangelical Christians and the way they have assertively injected religion into civic life.

The fury of the debate between faith and atheism leaves little room for an inquiry as to why 90% of Americans say they believe in God or a supreme being and more than 40% say they attend religious services each week. These days, a typically silly argument between a believer and a nonbeliever revolves around whether religious extremists or godless communists murdered more people in the 20th century. Like so many other public debates, the one over religion is dominated by extremes.

A new study out of Northwestern University, perhaps without really meaning to, gets at something much more interesting. It starts to provide data and insight that add to our ability to understand what Marx was getting at — not if there is a God and not whether it makes sense that humans should believe, but simply why humans believe.
The study, by psychology professor Dan P. McAdams and researcher Michelle Albaugh, was aimed at finding out about the religious sources of political leanings. They interviewed 128 devout Christians in and around Chicago, and they avoided the usual questions of “How do you know God exists” or even “Why do you believe?” Instead, they asked their subjects to describe what their lives and the world would be like if they did not have faith. In other words, what would the world be like if Christopher Hitchens were right and there were no God?

The study analyzes the results mostly in terms of political divisions. It found that politically conservative Christians described a godless world “as one of incessant conflict and chaos, expressing strong apprehension regarding people’s inability to control their impulses and the attendant breakdown of social relationships and societal institutions.”

Liberal Christians, on the other hand, had a different set of concerns. For them, a world without God would be “barren or lifeless, lacking in color and texture, an empty wasteland that would not sustain them” and in which they would feel lost.

Full article is definitely worth reading: Asking the right God question – Los Angeles Times

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