What does God look like? Liberals and conservatives have different ideas, NC study finds

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This is what some people think God looks like, based on a UNC Chapel Hill study. The image on the left is what young participants in the study imagined. The one on the right was imagined by older participants in the study.

We now know what God might look like, or at least what a group of extremely brave psychologists are suggesting, based on research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Among the team’s many conclusions: Liberals and conservatives see God differently…a lot differently.

The researchers came to that realization after asking 511 American Christians what they think God looks like, so a composite mugshot could be created from the many responses.

The end result is a mugshot that shows God is white, young and clean cut, not unlike someone from an 80s boy band.

As for his expression, Mona Lisa’s vague smile comes to mind.

All 551 of the Christians involved came to the study with some kind of bias, the researchers said.

Liberals imagined God as “more feminine, younger, and more loving,” while conservatives have a white guy in mind who was “more powerful,” said the researchers.

“These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies that liberals and conservatives want,” said the study’s lead author Joshua Conrad Jackson, in a synopsis posted on UNC Chapel Hill’s website.

“Past research shows that conservatives are more motivated than liberals to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be best regulated by a powerful God. On the other hand, liberals are more motivated to live in a tolerant society, which would be better regulated by a loving God.”

The final image crafted by the study is basically just a big guess, since the Bible doesn’t spell out what God looks like.

“Genesis 1:27 describes man as created in God’s image,” says the report, “but other verses portray God as embodied as non-human (Exodus 3:2), or as not embodied at all (John 4:24).”

The study also found demographics often came into play with our image of God: Caucasians tended to see a white God; African Americans imagined a black God; younger people saw a younger God and attractive people imagined a more attractive God.

A process called reverse correlation was used to create the final image, said the report. The 551 test subjects were shown hundreds of randomly varying pairs of faces, and asked which of the two looked more like “the face of God.”

Psychology Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author, said the study revealed people tend to believe in a God that looks like them, except in one curious instance.

“Men and women believed in an equally masculine-looking God,” said the report.

The study was paid for with grants from the Templeton Foundation and National Science Foundation, said a UNC Chapel Hill press release.

This story first ran at CharlotteObserver.com.

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