Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Our Own Image

 Discover Magazine has a good piece about those who think they can discern the will of god. It's called 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 by Nicholas 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."

It makes sense that if we project a lot while interpreting where real people are at (people who often are able to clear up any misconceptions we have about their position), that we would do so even more when interpreting the mind of a being that no one can honestly say exists. You can imagine how misinterpreting the position of another person may go either way re: personal fortune (imagining your parents like you the best versus thinking the guy planning to rob you in an alley is really only approaching you to solicit a donation to NPR), but interpreting the will of an all powerful being that a majority of your fellow citizens have been cowed (or cowed themselves) into believing could be very beneficial. Also, the amount of internal calm that is created when you know you are only trying 'to do god's will' can't be underestimated. Without having a God standing behind our moral suspicions and decisions, we're just humans trying to muddle through. Our positions suddenly become so...revisable.

Life requires us to make some tough decisions sometimes. Imagining that we are only trying to follow orders can allow us to make tough decisions fast without getting trapped trying to hash out the nuances of certain situations. This is clearly one of the more adaptable qualities of religion.


the elegant ape said...

there is a real disconnect how people view religious figures and how they view themselves. The aggressively religious in this country give nearly unanimous support for say.. the Pope or Jesus.
But would never vote for either if they would run for office.

Willie Y said...

If the Taliban can do why can't everyone.