Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is the Jewish God a Cosmic Life Force?

The General Social Survey, the workhorse survey of American sociology, in 2010 asked a representative sample of American adults how they envisioned God.

The two most popular options were "God is a personal being involved in the lives of people today" and "God is not personal, but something like a cosmic life force."

For Christians, the more strongly religious they reported themselves to be, the more they chose the first option.  Thus, 93% of "strong Protestants" and 86% of "strong Catholics" think God is a personal being, compared to 70% of "not very strong" Protestants and 62% of "not very strong" Catholics. 

By contrast, only 3 and 5%, respectively, of strong Protestants and Catholics see God as a cosmic force. For not very strong Protestants and Catholics, the proportion embracing the cosmic force view rises to 17%.

For Jews, though, the trend goes in the opposite direction. Among strong Jews, only 33% see God as personal, whereas 40% see God as a cosmic force.  Interestingly, it is the not very strong Jews who show a more gentile distribution: 53% say "personal being," vs. 12% who say "cosmic force."

My best guess of what this means:  Jews who are not very involved in the Jewish community do not really know the distinctive features of Jewish theology, and therefore assimilate to the Christian view that pervades American culture.


Ken Lammers said...

It seems to me that this is probably because the story is more important in Christianity whereas rules and covenants are more important in Judaism (and Islam, although it is not mentioned above). It would also tend to explain the difference between Catholics (more hierarchical and rule based) and Protestants. The story of God amongst us, in the person of Jesus, has no parallel in the other two religions. Abraham, Moses, and Muhammed are important in that they put forth the covenants and rules of God, but in the end they are secondary to those covenants and rules.

I would be interested to know what Christian responses would have been if the question was specifically about God, the Father, and left aside the more personal parts of the Trinity.

dennistheeremite said...

I wonder whether there were distinctions made for reformed, conservative, orthodox, and hassidic Jews. Then I also wonder about people influenced by Elie Weisel for whom story and personal relationship seem very important.

Gruntled said...

I am still surprised. The God of Hebrew Scriptures is so much more personal than the God (the Father) of the New Testament.

dennistheeremite said...

It's not unusual for some Christians to use Jesus as a form of escape from the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. Maybe a cosmic force provides a similar escape.