The Center for Inquiry’s (CFI) new national media campaign wants us to know that people can get along just fine without God. Thank you so very much. CFI’s stated purpose is to “foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values,” so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
Citing the rise in nonreligious Americans, CFI’s launch aspires to dispel misconceptions about nonbelievers. (See footnote 1.) To counter any notions that religious “nones” settle for empty and meaningless lives, the campaign slogan asserts, “You don’t need God—to hope, to care, to love, to live.” [To view the ad and video, visit livingwithoutreligion.org]
The slogan suggests that God is all about hope, caring, love, and living a great life. Period. Is that what believers think about God? Are worshipers the kind of people who emphasize the positives, while forgetting the harshness and judgment of the God described in the Old Testament? (See footnote 2.) First, to pinpoint your view of God, see if you agree or disagree with the following two statements:
God is angered by human sin.
God is directly involved in worldly affairs.
If you believe that God is directly involved in worldly affairs and is angry because of our sins, then you see God as strictly authoritarian.
One-half of worshipers (53%) see God as authoritarian—an angry diety who is directly involved in our affairs. Another one in five worshipers also believe God is involved in our affairs, but don't see God as angry—they share a benevolent view of God. Believers with a benevolent view of God would probably dislike the CFI slogan the most. They see God as intimately involved in the good things in our lives.
Worshipers, who don't believe God is directly involved in our worldly affairs, understand God's role in the world as more passive or distant (around one in four hold this view). These worshipers might be more comfortable with people doing a lot of living, caring, hoping, and loving without God's immediate assistance. About 15% of all worshipers view God as passive and distant but not angry. The final 10% see God as distant and angry (a view of God as critical). Worshipers with this view might be skeptical of the CFI slogan because they do not believe God has any objections or anything to contribute to good people who love, care, and hope.
Because worshipers have diverse views about God's qualities and role in our lives, CFI's slogan misses the mark. If the CFI campaign goal is to influence believers about the character of nonbelievers, the garbled message confuses more than enlightens. And we definitely won't see their ad on a church bus.
Note 1. About 16% of Americans are religious “nones” based on findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/).
Note 2. The full description of Americans’ view of God is based on research by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader (see their book, America's Four Gods: What We Say about God--and What That Says about Us, Oxford University Press, 2010). You can also take their longer “God Test,” with the complete set of questions used in their research at http://www.thearda.com/whoisyourgod/