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The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God

The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God

 David F. Bradley*, Julie J. Exline, Alex Uzdavines

Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7123, USA.

Email: davidfbradley@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

People who believe in the existence of a god or gods often hold an image of a god with relational characteristics (e.g., loving, cruel, and/or distant). Can nonbelievers form an image of a hypothetical god? What characteristics do their hypothetical gods have? We conducted an Internet-based survey of adult nonbelievers in the U.S. (N = 458). Most (86%; N = 393) were able to form an image of a hypothetical god. On average, nonbelievers described a god that was more loving than distant or cruel. Compared to a previously reported sample of religious believers, nonbelievers described a god that was less loving, more distant, and more cruel. Using correlation and regression, we found that personality factors (Big Five personality traits, adult attachment style, and socially desirable responding) were not strong predictors of the characteristics nonbelievers assign to hypothetical gods. Seeing a hypothetical god as more loving, less cruel, and less distant was associated with more past positive emotional experiences with gods, less past anger at gods, less participation in explicitly nonreligious activities, and greater desire for gods to exist. Basing a hypothetical god on a previous personal image of god was associated with imagining a more loving and less distant god, while using a culturally popular image of god was associated with a more cruel god. Our findings suggest nonbelievers, when prompted to imagine a hypothetical god, do not uniformly imagine cruel gods, but a diverse array of deities based partly on prior experiences with gods and current interactions with nonbelief.

 

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Science, Religion and Culture

June

Vol. 5, Sp. Iss. 1 Pages 1-82

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