Psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied the biases of 511 American Christians to determine what they believe their God looks like. The result: A white dude whose face looks like a combination of every youth pastor I’ve ever had.
The researchers came to this police-sketch of a God by showing participants hundreds of random face-pairs. The participants were asked to choose the face from each pair that looked more like God to them. The researchers were surprised to find that despite centuries of art depicting God as an elderly, wizened old white man, people leaned toward a younger, softer visage. And their biases about what he looks like reflected their own political views: Liberals saw a feminine God, while conservatives saw God as more of a hardass.
Similarly, hot people saw a hot God, young people saw a Young God, and the participant’s own race was reflected in God’s features, too.
The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.
The final result is a God that looks like a guy named Todd. God plays his acoustic guitar at annoying times. God owns at least three pairs of Rainbow flip-flops. God hugs for three seconds too long. God fistbumps. God thinks you should try this new chronological Bible written in modern slang, it’s really deepened his devotional time. God wants you to be safe, so he’ll let you drink High Life in the church basement just this one time.
"People's tendency to believe in a God that looks like them is consistent with an egocentric bias," Professor Kurt Gray, the study's senior author and a psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a press release. "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."
The only aspect that broke the rule of people seeing themselves in God was in gender: Men and women both saw a male God. The patriarchy is a hell of a thing.