This Is What God Looks Like to Americans, According to Science

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used an innovative technique to reconstruct what the average American Christian thinks God looks like.

The results, published in the journal PLOS One, offer a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of religious belief and how our own biases shape our perceptions of the divine.

A Younger, More Feminine God

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Image Credit: Joshua Conrad Jackson Neil Hester Kurt Gray

The study ¹ involved 511 Christian participants who were shown hundreds of randomly varying face pairs and asked to select which face from each pair most closely resembled their image of God.

By combining all the selected faces, the researchers assembled a composite “face of God” for each person.

Surprisingly, the resulting faces depicted a God who appeared younger and more feminine than the stern, elderly, white-bearded man often portrayed in popular culture. This challenges the conventional imagery of God that has been perpetuated by centuries of art and literature.

Political Beliefs Influence Perceptions of God

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Image Credit: lightsource/DepositPhotos

The study also found that people’s political affiliations played a role in how they visualized God. Conservatives tended to imagine a more Caucasian and powerful-looking God, while liberals saw God as more loving and feminine in appearance.

According to the researchers, these differences might stem from the kind of societies that liberals and conservatives envision. Conservatives may prefer a powerful God who can maintain an orderly society, while liberals may favor a more tolerant, loving God to preside over a more inclusive community.

Seeing God in Our Own Image

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Image Credit: Viral Chatter

Perhaps the most intriguing finding was that people tended to perceive God as resembling themselves. Older participants envisioned an older God, more attractive participants saw a more attractive God, and African Americans imagined a God that looked more African American.

This reflects an egocentric bias, where we project our own traits and beliefs onto others, including our conceptions of God. “People believe in a God who not only thinks like them, but also looks like them,” explained Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author.

The study sheds light on the deeply personal nature of religious belief and how our individual experiences, identities, and biases shape the way we imagine and relate to the divine. It also highlights the incredible diversity of religious views, even within a single faith tradition like Christianity.

As we grapple with questions of faith and spirituality, this research invites us to reflect on our own assumptions and to recognize the complex psychological and cultural factors that influence our understanding of God.

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Sources

  1. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0198745
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.