Check out this fascinating article about a Baylor University survey into Americans' perceptions of God. 91.8% of us believe in some kind of a God or higher power. But the Gods we believe in are quite different, falling into four broad categories which also predict the political tendencies of believers:
Authoritarian God This one has some issues with anger. He is very judgmental and will definitely punish us for our sins. He is also very engaged in our lives and in world affairs.
31.4% of Americans believe in this kind of God (and 43.3% of southerners).
32.1% of these believers think that God is on America's side in world affairs. These are the people who want an active, Christian-values based government.
The Benevolent God sets absolute standards for humanity but is primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible.
23% of Americans believe in this kind of a God.
Although there are Jews in this category, more than half of these believers want the government to advocate Christian values. They are also most likely (68.1%) to say that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.
The Critical God: The Critical God has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort.
16% of believers believe in this guy.
"This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."
Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research.
The Distant God: This God created the world but does not especially care about it or intervene in its affairs.
24.4% of believers believe in this God.
This group tends towards so-called moral relativism.
I have always thought that if I were to believe in a personal creator God that he or she would definitely have certain characteristics that probably reflect my own predilections and personality. My God would either be benevolent or possibly a distant spectator, watching us with curiosity but detachment, kind of like the way I watched my sea monkeys when I was a kid.
What I can't wrap my mind around is the authoritarian Jack Chick kind of God. After all, if I have no desire to have my enemies be tortured eternally in a lake of fire, surely GOD isn't so petty or pathological that he would consign people to hell for telling a lie in 5th grade or for having honest doubts about his existence?
Also, it never fails to amaze me that people (at least in this day and age) never posit an evil or malevolent God. With all the suffering in the world, why do we assume that God is a good guy rather than a sadist? I wouldn't go that route, because I tend to think that anyone who created corgis and daffodils must be a good sort. But still.
Another possibility no one ever seems to think about is that maybe God is powerful but fallible. Maybe he has had to figure things out by trial-and-error (natural selection anyone?) and maybe he wants the best for us but doesn't have full control over all the forces he unleashed in the world from death to natural disasters to our tendency to kill each other. In short, maybe he is doing his best.
I am actually exhausted, which is why this post is a bit fanciful. If you think I am going off the deep end, just go read the article about the Baylor study. It has lots of other great statistics about religious belief in the U.S. (Note that it has been criticized for possibly posing questions in terms that make more sense to Jews and Christians than to other types of believers.)