Baylor University has begun to make quite a showing in the non-sectarian academic world of late. Knowing of the school’s Baptist heritage, I’d always been somewhat suspicious of any scholarship susceptible to doctrinal poisoning. I freely admit that my fear goes back to a hyper-evangelical college roommate. Even at the conservative bastion of Grove City College, John would lament the sorry religious state of the school and repeatedly thought of transferring to Baylor. (I need not fear that John will ever read this—he avoided liberal dribble like it was Planned Parenthood.) By association, Baylor became something in my mind that it apparently is not. When the administration recognized the direction the Southern Baptist Convention was going, they took steps to protect themselves from a takeover (something I’d witnessed at a much smaller school some distance north). The university press has been producing intriguing books, and the sociology department has been cranking out some fascinating studies of religion.
One of the more recent religion in America surveys from Baylor indicates that a correlation exists between the image of God presented by a version of Christianity and that contentedness of believers. More specifically, churches that promote a judgmental image of God (think Jonathan Edwards and his spiritual bedmates) tend to be anxiety-ridden and compulsive. Churches that teach a loving God have more balanced believers. Brimstone and hellfire, in other words, produce the expected results. What the Baylor study shows is not so much surprising as it is scientific. Well, softly scientific. As a social science, sociology relies on statistics and analysis to draw its conclusions. We now have a means of measuring religions outcomes.
Religion is, in many ways, self-fulfilling prophecy. By preparing believers for a literal Hell of a future, it cranks out automatons who’ll do anything to flee from the wrath to come. Herein lies its danger as well. Although some politicians may be naïve about the veracity of belief, many of them realize something their more liberal compatriots don’t—religion motivates. The religion of a loving God who has no Damoclesian sword hovering perilously over the heads of the faithful won’t get them to the polls. The god with believers on a skewer above the everlasting barbeque pit will. Baylor has shown us the data. If we ever hope to redress the damage constantly visited by politicians claiming God has told them to run for office, to invade Iraq, to commit war crimes in the name of the prince of peace, we must act on good information. If religion is a psychological anomaly, it pays to learn a little applied psychology. Otherwise the wrath of an angry god will consume us all.