The Faces of God in America

Discussion in 'Perceptions & Experiences' started by nivek, Jun 16, 2018.

  1. nivek

    nivek As Above So Below

    For any Christians, does this seem representative of your view of what god's face may look like?...

    The Faces of God in America

    Literature and art have long depicted God as a stern and elderly white man, but do people actually see Him this way? We use reverse correlation to understand how a representative sample of American Christians visualize the face of God, which we argue is indicative of how believers think about God’s mind.

    In contrast to historical depictions, Americans generally see God as young, Caucasian, and loving, but perceptions vary by believers’ political ideology and physical appearance. Liberals see God as relatively more feminine, more African American, and more loving than conservatives, who see God as older, more intelligent, and more powerful.

    All participants see God as similar to themselves on attractiveness, age, and, to a lesser extent, race. These differences are consistent with past research showing that people’s views of God are shaped by their group-based motivations and cognitive biases.

    Our results also speak to the broad scope of religious differences: even people of the same nationality and the same faith appear to think differently about God’s appearance.

    The face of God across all American Christians

    What does God generally look like to American Christians? Participants saw God’s face as more masculine, Caucasian, attractive, intelligent, and loving compared to His anti-face. God’s face was also rated as significantly younger than the alternative composite, and as no more powerful, consistent with a general tendency for Americans to believe in a God who is more loving than stern. Importantly, these differences were unbiased by the characteristics of the reverse correlation base image, since we compared faces that participants selected from those they did not select.


    God’s perceived face (left) and anti-face (right) across American Christians.

    Together, these results help paint a picture of an American God who may not resemble scriptural or historical depictions. The face of the modern American God appeared kinder and more approachable than the God of the Sistine Chapel, perhaps reflecting different cultural concerns of the 16th century versus today. However, these general results should be interpreted with caution, since participants’ ratings may have been biased by their conceptualization of Jesus.

    The face of God across liberals and conservatives

    Do liberals and conservatives see the face of God differently? To test this question, we generated composite images for those who self-identified as liberals versus conservatives. In our reverse correlation sample, conservative participants were more likely to be older, Caucasian, male, and more attractive, and so we covaried out these demographic factors when generating these composite faces in order to avoid confounding ideology and egocentrism.


    Aggregates of the images that liberal participants (left panel) and conservative participants (right panel) associated with how they viewed God.

    Independent ratings suggested that, as predicted, perceptions of God’s face are shaped by motivations tied to political orientation. The conservatives’ God was perceived as more masculine, older, more powerful, and wealthier than the liberals’ God, reflecting conservatives’ motivation for a God who enforces order. Conversely, liberals’ God was more African American and more loving than the conservatives’ God, reflecting their motivation for a God who encourages tolerance. Conservatives visualized a God who was better-suited to meet their motivation for social order, while liberals visualized a God who was better-suited to meet their motivation for social tolerance.

    The egocentric face of God

    Do people see a God who looks like them? Egocentrism suggests that people see the world and other people through the lens of the self. Perhaps the same is true with God, such that He shares not only people’s opinions, but also their facial features. We tested for the role of egocentrism in the perception of God by comparing God’s composite faces of (a) the youngest third of our sample with the oldest third of our sample, (b) the least attractive third of our sample with the most attractive third of our sample, (c) African American participants with Caucasian participants, and (d) men versus women.


    Aggregates of the images that young participants (left panel) and old participants (right panel) associated with how they viewed God.

    Independent ratings suggest that, as predicted, perceptions of God’s face are shaped by egocentrism. Older participants saw an older God, more attractive participants saw a more attractive God, and African Americans saw a marginally more African American God. Perceptions of God’s face did not vary across gender, both men and women saw God as similarly male.

    What’s in a face? The face of God as a measure of God’s mind

    How do people perceive God’s mind? The roles of motivation and cognitive biases
    The present research
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