Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Highly religious people are less motivated by compassion than are non-believers

Link to article on RichardDawkins.net
"New research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people. ...  The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious."
I'm not surprised by these findings.  Religious people face at least four problems that nonbelievers do not (more or less).  First, they believe that God will ultimately right every injustice, either in this life or the world to come.  Accordingly, there is no compelling reason for the believer do anything about the problems they observe (e.g., hunger, inequality, injustice), except pray, of course.  

Second, many religions (including Mormonism) teach that people's circumstances are somewhat deserved based on their prior actions -- the flip side of the "gospel of prosperity."  In other words, poverty, bad health, etc., are seen as the punishments of a just God.  "If someone is being punished, who am I to interfere," is the conventional thinking.

Third, the ethical nature of a religious person's charity is diminished by the fact that it is often compelled by the desire for reward or the fear of punishment (for not being charitable!)  People operating under compulsion seldom share the excitement of those doing something of their free will.

Finally, religion is the ultimate in-group/out-group differentiator.  "If you aren't one of us, you are one of them."  As Jesus illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was the religious people that passed by the injured man because he was not part of their respective in-groups.

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