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Believers in an Active God Believe in an Inactive Government

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A survey conducted by Gallup for Baylor University found very strong correlations between belief in an active God which has a plan for individuals and believing that the government shouldn't do too much. So if someone believes in an active, intervening god it's more likely that they will also believe that the size and power of human governments should be limited.

It's not hard to understand why such a correlation would exist but it is important to understand how and why ostensibly a-political theology can translate into real-world political policies — and why political debates over those polices can become intractable.

 

Does God Have a Plan For You?

The data for this survey was gathered for Baylor University by Gallup in surveys conducted in 2010 and they have a margin of +/- 4%.

When asked how they felt about the statement "God Has a Plan for Me," people responded:

  • Strongly Agree: 40.9%
  • Agree: 32.2%
  • Disagree: 12.3%
  • Strongly Disagree: 14.6%

So belief that God has a plan for people is massively popular, with nearly three-quarters of Americans at least just "agreeing" with the idea and over 40% "strongly agreeing" with it. I think it's reasonable to treat this belief as indicative of not just an "active" god, but a personally active god that concerns itself with even the minutia of life on earth.

You can't have a plan for humans without being active and you can't have a plan for all humans if you aren't very, very active in personal lives. One of the consequences of such a belief, though, seems to be that everything that's going on right now must be reasonably fair and just. After all, how could an omnipotent and loving God have a plan that either results in gross inequality and injustice, whether as part of the end or even part of the means?

 

Belief in an Active God vs. Belief in an Active Government

Those who strongly agree with the statement "The Government Does Too Much" are much more common among those who agree or strongly agree that "God has a plan for me". The following numbers are the percentages of each group from above who also agreed that "The Government Does Too Much":

  • Strongly Agree (God has a plan for me): 52.6%
  • Agree: 43.9%
  • Disagree: 34.2%
  • Strongly Disagree: 21.1%

So around half of those who agree or strongly agree that "God has a plan for me" will strongly agree that "The government does too much." Only a third or a quarter of those who disagree that God has a plan for them will insist that the government does too much.

 

Theological & Political Beliefs

If you believe that God has a plan for you, personally, as well as for the nation as a whole, then you believe that God is ultimately in control of both your destiny as an individual as well as the destiny for the nation. Neither individuals nor governments can or should try to interfere with that.

If you believe that God is in control and has a plan, then there's really no need for the government to intervene so much in the economy. If you believe that God has a plan for every individual, then whatever is happening to the economy must be part of what God intends. Government shouldn't interfere.

What this means, then, is that debates about what, if anything, the government should be doing, how large the government should be, and what responsibilities the government should have may also be (for some) debates about the nature of God.

Unfortunately, background premises about what God does or does not want aren't being stated explicitly. In some cases this may be because people take those premises so much for granted that they don't think about them. In other cases, though, people might realize that their arguments sound better if the theological foundations aren't made too explicit.

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