Poll Shows That Most Evangelicals Are Okay With God Being Sort Of A Dick

Source: AP Images / The Yomiuri ShimbunA poll recently conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute has produced some interesting results:

38% of Americans believe natural disasters are a sign from God, and 29% believe that God punishes nations when some of their citizens sin.

Twenty-nine percent. Where are these people? Who are these people?

Nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white evangelicals also believe that natural disasters are a sign from God. Only about one-third of Catholics (31%) and white mainline Protestants (34%) believe natural disasters are a sign from God.

A majority (53%) of white evangelicals believe that God punishes nations for the sins of its citizens–a view held by just 1-in-5 white mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Oh, right.

If you haven’t bashed your head into your desk yet, consider the following: nearly half of Americans (44%) consider recent natural disasters to be evidence of Biblical ‘end times.’ Again, white evangelicals are skewing the results: 67% of them agree with the above.

What troubles me most is that a majority of Americans seem to have no trouble whatsoever believing in an all-knowing, omnipresent, benevolent God who allows most of the earth’s population to suffer on a daily basis. Only 18% of the respondents completely or somewhat agreed that “seeing innocent people suffer sometimes causes me to have doubts about God.” Nearly half (48%) completely disagreed with that statement, and nearly a quarter (24%) somewhat disagreed. The remaining 10% either professed no believe in God or refused to answer.

I’m no stranger to the typical Christian responses to this problem. The first is that human suffering and death are consequences of sin and/or Satan, and the second is that suffering is a tool God uses to mold us into better followers (I once attended a service where the pastor emphasized this point by randomly cracking a giant bullwhip as he talked). Both of these arguments are pretty easily dismissed. If it’s no skin off God’s back to prevent human suffering, isn’t he sort of obligated to? Couldn’t an all-powerful omniscient being just make a few tweaks to produce a world with no disease, hunger, or natural disasters? Perhaps we wouldn’t expect this of every conceivable deity, but if the Christian god has time for a personal relationship with every single human being on the planet, surely he can make time for this.

This is usually where the second argument comes into play: if there were no suffering, there would be no personal betterment. I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment, but the application is egregious. There’s a pretty obvious difference between a parent allowing his or her child to “learn the hard way” and a deity allowing the daily torture and death of millions of relatively innocent people. If you or I ever allowed our toddlers to play in the street, reasoning that they were told to do otherwise and were thus at fault if they were hit by a car, virtually everyone would agree that the authorities should intervene. Why gods get a pass where fallible human beings wouldn’t, I’ll never know.

For an example of the questionnaire and a full breakdown of responses, click here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the data for different demographics has been made public.

Semi-related:

  • Adam

    I read this poll the other day and was shocked by the stupidity of my fellow Americans. Thanks for sharing this with everyone else.

  • Jay

    I'm not shocked. The question of a benevolent God does trouble many Christians with even a smidgen of intellect and honesty…unfortunately, they are fed the same pat responses that were fed to their teachers before them. When you want to believe in God, when you've spent a lot of time and effort in building up your rationalizations for your want for God, you can be satisfied by even a half-assed answer – especially if it's being delivered by someone you look up to and who radiates confidence.

    I remember the last church service I went to that addressed the question. No satisfactory grappling with the philosophy, instead it boiled down to "God works in mysterious ways" and the pastor turned it into an opportunity to glorify how "humbled" we had to be in front of God, how dare we question an omnipotent being with our puny human minds. Of course, this is very easy to say when you're well-fed, white, and sitting in a warm place looking forward to a hearty lunch followed by a period of leisure time while perusing sports broadcasts.

  • Doug

    @Anti Atheist:

    I really don't think you want to get into an member-measuring contest of atheists and religious people being dicks because of their atheism and religion respectively. When playing who's the bigger dick, religion always wins.

    Also, atheists, unlike "religionists," don't claim that atheism makes people good people. Atheists are just people; some good, some bad, some less or more able to suffer fools.

  • Robertvroom

    Another reason that God allows evil is that he gave people free will. Having the ability to choose means that you can choose badly (living on the beach along the "ring of fire" because the views are spectacular for instance leads to a higher chance of dying in a tsunami). God can do anything that is logically possible (he cannot create a married bachelor, a round square, free agents who always choose the way he wants them to choose…). God also gives us the ability to love, but if you can love you can also hate.

    • Adam

      @ Robert: If god "allows" anything, then a world with god and a world without god are pretty much identical. Until you can give proof that god exists, we choose to live in a world where he doesn't. We can choose our own morality. God didn't ever say in the bible that kidnapping, child molestation, rape, genocide, or torture were bad things. He wasted for commandments on himself! But, we have all agreed since biblical times that they are wrong. WE chose the right moral path… without god. "Free will" is another excuse that believers give to explain god non-existence. Of course he lets us do what we want… HE DOESN'T EXIST!

      And why did he wait until 2,000 years ago to send his son to "save" humanity. I guess the first 198,000 years humans walked the earth is fear and trembling of disease, savage animals, earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and death… he didn't care about them? and, when Jesus did come (according to your stories… which we don't believe happened) he only spent 33 years in a remote part of the world and gave no common sense advice or any divine understanding of nature or science, like "Wash your hands… they have bacteria on them and that kills people." No, he just commanded stupid things that anyone alive in that time could have done.

      Please present valid evidence, or you don't need to post here. This is a community for atheists. If you can't contribute to the conversation, and only want to convert us (which you won't do), please just go pray for us… it will do just about as much good.

  • http://atheismresource.com Katie Hartman

    Robert, I've already tackled the major problem with that perspective, which is that there are plenty of cases in which we expect other people to intervene to protect those who've made poor decisions. If we're to treat the Christian god like a cosmic Sky-Daddy who loves us all and considers us his children, why the hell wouldn't we expect him to intervene to protect his babies (I mean 'babies' both figuratively and literally, since children die horrible deaths every day through no fault of their own)? We would put a human parent in prison if they let their child play with matches and then burn to death. Why does Sky-Daddy get a pass?

    And there's another problem with your specific example, which is the assumption that the rich motherfuckers with beachfront property are the ones who suffer when natural disasters rip up the coastline. Not so, I'm afraid. Mr. Warbucks was on a private jet toward his other-other home in the Alps before you could say "property loss." I guarantee that the people who lost everything – in particular, their lives – weren't there for the view.

  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    Robertvroom said:

    Another reason that God allows evil is that he gave people free will.

    Well, there's two distinct problems with this.

    The first is, what possible reason would he have for that? Mankind's entire mortal existence is a game show to see if man picks the right choice and gets a reward, or the wrong one and earns everlasting torment? What kind of a weak, sick mind considers this a plan for existence? I'm referring to you with that question, not your idea of a deity…

    But if that wasn't bad enough, you missed the worse part of your argument: disasters have nothing whatsoever to do with man's choice of good and evil – man doesn't control them. Disasters are your god's choice of good and evil, and he definitely chooses evil, doesn't he? Why? Who cares if your god has free will, what point is that supposed to make?

    This is the most amazing aspect of religion – that people will sit there and try to make excuses for a behavior that they insist their "loving" deity engages in. You don't have a problem with thousands of people a day dying, for whatever reason? Apparently not – not if you can count yourself as your deity's good buddy, it would appear. But you know, society can do without such utter self-centered depravity.

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  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Just Al

    Juno said:

    Just Al is the kind of atheist fuck who would throw believers in Gulags if he had the power.

    I know it, you know it.

    Hmmm, seems I struck a nerve somehow. Juno, are you identifying with Robertvroom's attitude in some way?

    No gulags necessary, but a school that taught believers how to think rationally would be tempting, I admit. Still, freedom is a useful concept, so I'll stick with treating weak justifications with contempt. Sorry it's not as evil as you'd like, but I suspect if you look really hard, you'll find some nice examples very close by.

  • NoriMori

    @Juno

    Don't put words or motives in other people's mouths unless you have a damn good reason. You had no basis whatsoever for claiming that Just Al would do anything of the sort.

    @Katie Hartman

    I love SMBC Theater! I love their videos that mock religion, they are highly amusing! I also love "Just a Theory", "Slippery Slope", and "Heaven Sent". Demonstrates just how ridiculous certain religious ideas are.