Psychology

What Would Jesus Do?

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 776
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6070.776-c
CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

During the past several election cycles in the United States, the association of religious views and voting preferences has been noted. This has led to claims that greater religiosity generates support for conservative policies, which generally favor lower and less progressive tax rates as well as restrictions on same-sex marriage. The take-home message has been that an individual's religious beliefs influence that person's political stance. Ross et al. have used a survey of roughly 500 liberal and conservative Christians to examine the converse proposition—that an individual's political views affect that person's religious beliefs. What they found was that self-described liberals and conservatives exhibited the expected views regarding higher tax rates and gay marriage. What was intriguing, however, were the views that both liberals and conservatives imputed to a contemporary Jesus: Conservatives rated Jesus as being more in favor of higher taxes on the wealthy and more opposed to gay marriage than they themselves were, with an opposite pattern for liberals. By placing more weight on issues on which they projected Jesus as being more extreme than themselves, individuals on both sides of the spectrum were able to reduce dissonance, which might be better characterized as social rather than cognitive, owing to the collective nature of religion.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 10.1073/pnas.1117557109 (2012).

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