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US believers find Jesus of like mind

14 March 2012

by Ed Thornton

CHRISTIANS are prone to assume that Jesus would share their political views, a study published last month in the United States suggests.

An article in the journal Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, “How Christians reconcile their personal political views and the teachings of their faith: Projection as a means of dissonance reduction”, reported the findings of a survey of 787 people who identified themselves as Christian, of whom 440 (56 per cent) identified as Protestants, and 221 (28 per cent) as Roman Catholics.

The respondents were asked to rate Jesus’s views “in general” on a scale from “extreme liberal” to “extreme conservative”. Respon­dents who were politically liberal and politically conservative “differed dramatically in the way they characterized Jesus’ views”.

The respondents were asked to characterise what they thought Jesus’s views would be on two “fellowship issues”: “increasing the tax burden on the rich to ease the plight of the poor and easing the ability of current illegal immigrants to gain citizenship and access to social services”. On both the issues, the article says, there was “dramatic evidence of projection” of the respondents’ own political views on to the views of Jesus.

But the article also reports that Christians with conservative pol­itical views “see their own views as less ‘liberal’ than those they attribute to Jesus and thus at odds with Jesus’ teaching on fellowship and com­passion to the needy and less fortunate”. Christians with liberal political views, by contrast, “see Jesus’ views on these issues as even more extreme in the direction of greater compassion and fellowship — i.e. as even more liberal — than their own”.

The respondents were also asked what they thought Jesus’s views would be on “two issues pertaining to moral conduct”: opposition to gay marriage and restricting access to abor­tion. The article says that Christians with liberal political views “did see their own views on gay marriage and abortion as more liberal than those they attribute to Jesus”. Christians with conservative political beliefs, however, “see Jesus’ views on these two issues as even more extreme in the direction of stricter morality — i.e. more conservative — than their own.”

The article suggests that the teachings of particular denomina­tions and church leaders are one reason why Christians project such different moral and political views on to Jesus. “Denominational leaders emphasize or de-emphasize particular teachings and tenets, and in so doing, increase or decrease pressures on individuals to confront particular discrepan­cies between those teachings and tenets and their personal views and practices,” the article states.

“The faithful discuss matters among them­selves, and are apt to rein­force each other’s ways of justify­ing those views and practices.”

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