People Think God Looks Like They Do

We’ve seen at least 50 headlines about this story, so we’ll give you the information from PhysOrg. Their headline is Researchers ask Americans ‘What does God look like?’ Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used a new technique to construct what a large sample of 511 American Christians think God looks like. Participants in the study saw hundreds of randomly varying face-pairs and selected which face from each pair appeared more like how they imagined God to appear. By combining all the selected faces, the researchers could assemble a composite “face of God” that reflected how each person imagined God to appear.

Truly, this is valuable research! PhysOrg says:

Their results were both surprising and revealing. From Michelangelo to Monty Python, Illustrations of God have nearly always shown him as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man. But the researchers found that many Christians saw God as younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian that popular culture suggests.

To quote Mr. Spock: Fascinating! They tell us:

In fact, people’s perceptions of God tended to rely partly on their political affiliation. [Huh?] Liberals tended to see God as more feminine, younger, and more loving than conservatives. Conservatives also saw God as more Caucasian and more powerful than liberals.

Liberals have a nice god, but the god of conservatives is grumpy. This is great social science! PhysOrg continues:

“These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies that liberals and conservatives want,” suggested Joshua Conrad Jackson, the study’s lead author. “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.”

This is so sweet! Let’s read on:

People’s perceptions also related to their own demographic characteristics. Younger people believed in a younger-looking God. People who reported being more physically attractive also believed in a more physically attractive God. And African Americans believed in a God that looked more African American than did Caucasians.

Here’s the researchers’ explanation for that:

“People’s tendency to believe in a God that looks like them is consistent with an egocentric bias,” said Professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author and a psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. “People often project their beliefs and traits onto others, and our study shows that God’s appearance is no different — people believe in a God who not only thinks like them, but also looks like them.

And this is the end

Interestingly, however, people did not show an egocentric bias on the basis of gender. Men and women believed in an equally masculine-looking God.

Here’s a link to the published paper in PLOS ONE: The faces of God in America: Revealing religious diversity across people and politics. You can read it online without a subscription. They have several pictures that resulted from the study. We tried to copy one to put above our post, but we couldn’t. That’s okay, it may be subject to copyright.

Well, dear reader, how do you visualize Yahweh — a burning bush, a Zeus-like figure, or maybe King Kong?

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “People Think God Looks Like They Do

  1. docbill1351

    Nonsense. God looks like my cat. In fact …

  2. Michael Fugate

    So in Genesis 1 verse 26, when it says “And God said, Let us make mod in our image, after our likeness:”, it was correct except for exchanging God and man?

  3. “Well, dear reader, how do you visualize Yahweh.”
    Not at all. However this is how the one and only true god(dess) looks like:

    or this

    or this

    She has many manifestations and also is capable of bilocation. Here is the one Caissa (praised be She!) has preferred most last few decades:×594

    A longer time ago She appeared to the world in this incarnation:×612

  4. Gawd has red hair and is ugly, says so in the buyBull. I’ll leave it to you to find the reference. OK!!!
    In this verse, Jacob is talking to his brother Esau when he says this:
    I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God. KJV: Genesis 33:10
    To see your face is like seeing the face of God. NIV: Genesis 33:10
    Now this is coming from a guy who (just a few verses ago) saw God face to face. So he should know. And he says that God looks just like Esau.
    Luckily, the Bible describes Esau’s appearance. He was all red and hairy.

  5. I’ve always thought god looked a lot like Woody Allen.

  6. LL – Jerry Coyne posted about God In The Crab, and perhaps you should post this over at WEIT

  7. Michael Fugate

    If people think a raccoon looks like a tiger, would you trust them on God?

    “In April, the NYPD received a number of calls from scared residents who believed they’d seen an escaped tiger wandering the streets of New York. It turned out to be a large raccoon.”

  8. Dear gawd, can we please make contact with another intelligent alien species so we can put an end to this childish personal god nonsense? You would think as we got older we would at least update and modify the fairy tales we were told as children.

  9. Erik John Bertel:
    “You would think as we got older we would at least update and modify the fairy tales we were told as children.”

    Yes, one would think. Evidently, what we are taught as children sticks with us tenaciously. Any wonder why Sunday School starts with kindergarten? Indoctrination is very effective when started at an early age.

    Can you imagine how loud the howls of protest would be if schools introduced the concept of evolution in kindergarten?

  10. I’m surprised no one has figured out how to smuggle an iPhone with them to the other side when they die. Not only would they put seance-directing mediums out of work, they could also snap a few pics to finally answer this question of what God looks like once and for all.

    Of course, that’s assuming there’s cell phone service up in heaven.

  11. I picture Yahweh as looking a bit like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, staggering around that maze in the snow with an axe.

  12. He, she, it looks rather like Ganesh, I think.

  13. “He, she, it looks rather like Ganesh, I think.”

    Total rubbish! Bullwinkle J. Moose is obviously god and I can prove it, but I don’t want to do that at this time.

  14. Reggie Rolltide

    Xenophanes, ancient Greek thinker, wrote:
    “If cattle and horses and lions had hands
    or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
    horses like horses and cattle like cattle
    also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
    of such a sort as the form they themselves have.”

    To paraphrase, If people were lambs they would picture God as a sheep.

  15. I thought God looked like George Burns????

  16. I thought God looked like George Burns????

    Made me chuckle.

  17. Can you imagine how loud the howls of protest would be if schools introduced the concept of evolution in kindergarten? retiredsciguy

    If only evolution had the sweet lies that religion delivers to the believers then this would such be a non-issue. Unfortunately, evolution’s only message to most people is that it’s a jungle out there! People need constant reassurance hence the popularity of religion and whole life insurance,

  18. Judging by their cult-like devotion I’d say several million Americans think god looks like Trump.

  19. RetiredSciGuy

    I’m surprised the “average” imagined image is of such a young guy. I would have thought most people pictured God as a bearded old man, a bit like that famous self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.

  20. Theodore Lawry

    I remember my mother saying that growing up in El Reno OK, one of her teachers told the class that “If there is a God, He’s not an old man sitting up above the clouds somewhere.” She was pleased, since she’d never heard anything like that before, and it sounded sensible to her.