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Most People Still Believe God is On Their Side

Researchers at the University of Chicago have
done a series of experiments looking at how people regard God's
intentions about issues. As the study notes:

Religion appears to serve as a moral compass for the vast
majority of people around the world. It informs whether
same-sex marriage is love or sin, whether war is an act of
security or of terror, and whether abortion rights represent
personal liberty or permission to murder. Many religions are
centered on a god (or gods) that has beliefs and intentions,
with adherents encouraged to follow ‘‘God’s will’’ on
everything from martyrdom to career planning to voting. Within
these religious systems, how do people know what their god

Well, it turns out that God generally agrees with each individual
believer. The researchers find:

Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an
independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber
that reverberates one’s own beliefs.

The scientists conducted a number of studies, but one of the more
fascinating was an fMRI brain scan in which they looked at which
parts of believers' brains were activated when they were asked
about what they believed, what other people might believe, and
what God believes about ten different moral issues. It turns out
that thinking about what God believes activates the same brain
areas as thinking about one's own views.

The researchers conclude:

[T]hese data provide insight into the sources of people’s own
religious beliefs. Although people obviously acquire religious
beliefs from a variety of external sources, from parents to
broader cultural influences, these data suggest that the self
may serve as an important source of religious beliefs as well.
Not only are believers likely to acquire the beliefs and
theology of others around them, but may also seek out believers
and theologies that share their own personal beliefs. If people
seek out religious communities that match their own personal
views on major social, moral, or political issues, then the
information coming from religious sources is likely to further
validate and strengthen their own personal convictions and
values. Religious belief has generally been treated as a
process of socialization whereby people’s personal beliefs
about God come to reflect what they learn from those around
them, but these data suggest that the inverse causal process
may be important as well: people’s personal beliefs may guide
their own religious beliefs and the religious communities they
seek to be part of.

Finally, these data have interesting implications for the
impact of religious thought on judgment and decision-making.
People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming
impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God
as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The
central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north
no matter what direction a person is facing. This research
suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s
beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction
they are already facing.

Talk about confirmation bias!

to read the study in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences


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