Creating God in one’s own image

For many religious people, the popular question “What would Jesus do?” is essentially the same as “What would I do?” That’s the message from an intriguing and controversial new study byNicholas Epley from the University of Chicago. Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.

Psychological studies have found that people are always a tad egocentric when considering other people’s mindsets. They use their own beliefs as a starting point, which colours their final conclusions. Epley found that the same process happens, and then some, when people try and divine the mind of God.  Their opinions on God’s attitudes on important social issues closely mirror their own beliefs. If their own attitudes change, so do their perceptions of what God thinks. They even use the same parts of their brain when considering God’s will and their own opinions.

Religion provides a moral compass for many people around the world, colouring their views on everything from martyrdom to abortion to homosexuality.  But Epley’s research calls the worth of this counsel into question, for it suggests that inferring the will of God sets the moral compass to whatever direction we ourselves are facing. He says, “Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs.“

Epley asked different groups of volunteers to rate their own beliefs about important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and the legalisation of marijuana. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an “average American”, Bill Gates (a celebrity with relatively unknown beliefs) and George Bush (a celebrity whose positions are well-known).

Epley surveyed commuters at a Boston train station, university undergraduates, and 1,000 adults from a nationally representative database. In every case, he found that people’s own attitudes and beliefs matched those they suggested for God more precisely than those they suggested for the other humans.

Read the Full Article at Not Exactly Rocket Science

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About Trite Static

I enjoy coffee with cream and tea with sugar and am only able to knit in squares.
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One Response to Creating God in one’s own image

  1. ardaasura says:

    Reblogged this on Polygnostic Ways and commented:
    If it’s god science, it goes here!

    Keep in mind that this is a study on a monotheistic God. For polytheists, the responses to such a survey may vary depending on the G/god being asked about, but even the perceived mores of multiple gods may correlate with one’s own personal mores.

    I understand that such a study may move some to ask, “Then what’s the point of having a god or gods?” I can only speak for myself: I know that it’s helpful to imagine someone, or to speak to someone who is exemplary and ideal by one’s own standards, when considering any course of action. And, if that someone happens to talk back they may have further helpful advice on the issue at hand.

    Whatever the ultimate causes may be, having personal gnosis and experiences in this vein helps me, and so I intend to keep it up.

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