Susan B. Anthony said in 1896: I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
The above is not news to anyone who is paying attention. Ask most Believers what they feel God’s stance is on a particular moral question and then ask what their own views are on the topic and, more often than not, you’ll get the same answer. Now there’s a study that supports that simple truth:
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.
Religion provides a moral compass for many people around the world, colouring their views on everything from martyrdom to abortion to homosexuality. But Epley’s research calls the worth of this counsel into question, for it suggests that inferring the will of God sets the moral compass to whatever direction we ourselves are facing. He says, “Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs.”
It’s the sort of thing that prompts a knee-jerk reaction of, Well duh! But it’s probably best that there’s some research that supports what seems obvious to many of us. If nothing else it can act as a jumping off point for challenging believers to truly consider what they think they know about their God(s). Combined with the fact that there’s such a wide-ranging variance between believers on what they think their God’s viewpoints are, it also bolsters the argument that there likely aren’t any God(s) to begin with.
Gods are created in man’s image and always have been as it is only in the mind of man that they exist. Considering some people’s opinions on what God is like, perhaps it’s best that simply wishing for something doesn’t make it real.