Joshua Jackson/UNC Chapel Hill
Joshua Jackson/UNC Chapel Hill

What does God look like? A group of psychologists suggest they might have the answer, based on research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and it’s not what you’re thinking.

Researchers asked 551 American Christians what they think God looks like. They were able to create a composite mugshot from the many responses.

The final image shows a white male, young and clean cut. When it comes to God’s expression, Mona Lisa’s smile comes to mind. This is significantly different than how Michelangelo portrayed God. Instead of a large, old man with a flowing white beard, the averaging image showed a beardless, younger face.

They also found in their research that liberals and conservatives had very different views of what God looked like. Liberals imagined God as “more feminine, younger and more loving,” while conservatives imagined a white man 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 liberal to live in a well-ordered society, one that would be 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.”

According to the report, a process called reverse correlation was used to create the final image. The test subjects were shown hundreds of randomly varying pairs of faces, and asked which of the two looked more like the face of God. The final image the study produced is inconclusive since the Bible doesn’t tell us directly what God looks like, but it does point to individuals views and biases based on race, gender, age and background.

“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 found demographics often play a role in our image of God. Caucasians tended to see a white God, African Americans tended to see a black God, and younger people a younger God.

The study also revealed people tend to believe in a God that looks like them, accept for one instance. Men and women believed in an equally masculine-looking God, said the report.

Ultimately, the face of God is in the eye of the beholder.


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