A team of psychologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a research, asking American Christians how they imagine God looks like. The majority of the respondents see God as young, Caucasian, and male, reports Church Times.
The study surveyed 511 devout Christians in the U.S. Participants were asked to create a picture of God based on hundreds of pictures of faces. The selected pictures were then combined to make a composite image of God.
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. —Professor Kurt Gray
According to researchers, “From Michaelangelo to Monty Python, popular illustrations have consistently shown God as an old and august white-bearded Caucasian man.”
Interestingly, the study found that American Christians envision God as a younger man who is more loving. God’s characteristics varied depending on the participant’s own political beliefs and how they see themselves.
The study showed that, “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.”
Dr. Joshua Conrad Jackson, who led the study, said, “These biases might have stemmed from the type of societies that liberals and conservatives want.”
Researchers noted that older believers see an older God, while younger believers tend to select younger faces in the group of photos. More attractive believers saw a more attractive God, while many African American participants picture a more African American God.
Psychology professor Kurt Gray, the study’s senior author, explained that, “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.”
God’s physical features may differ for each participant, but their perception of God’s gender is the same—all of the participants saw God as male.
The psychologists concluded that there is no single depiction of the face of God, even among believers in the same religion. “Even though American Christians express belief in a universal God, their perceptions of His face are not universally similar,” they wrote.