Are people of faith more generous to those in need than unbelievers? Scriptures of the Abrahamic religions encourage—some even demand—charity.
Charity is one of Islam’s five towers of the faith, divided as I understand it largely into zakat, a type of obligatory tithing, and sadaqa consisting of voluntary helpfulness that can be non-monetary (plus a few other categories). Mohammed said, “Your smile for your brother is a charity . . . removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is a charity.” Hebrews were instructed to give to those in need, tzedakah (which can also refer to justice). Translations of one of Christians’ favorite New Testament chapters, 1 Corinthians 13, conflate charity with love. In Matthew charity to the needy is a gift to “the King” himself.
Since major religions espouse (sometimes threaten about) charitable giving, one would think the faithful would, on average, be more charitable than persons not subject to what they believe to be commands of a deity. Consequently, many Christians are convinced that Christians are more moral and more charitable than non-Christians. Some even suggest, as exemplified in a recent comment to this blog (“Secular humanism goes beyond atheism,” Oct. 24), that “people of faith, especially Christians and Jews, can rightfully explain their desire to help each other flows from a natural result of their faith, not an innate quality of their humanity,” so that “any tendency for the non-religious to help others is an exception, not the rule.”
This opinion is not surprising. The doctrine that most or all good things flow from religion is a very effective, circular self-reinforcement, similar to believing the Bible is God’s word because it says it is. It is built into a number of religions, accepted often without challenge, that without belief in a god, human beings would not be charitable and, on a broader scale, unable to determine right and wrong. Atheists cannot be trustworthy or even “truly” happy for they’d not have the blessings of supernatural guidance. But the ways in which religions summon unimaginable mental gymnastics to protect themselves are not the point of this post. It suffices for now to notice that some Christians have decided that compassion for others exists only because it was instilled from the divine, i.e., helpfulness human to human would not exist without God. However the research literature so thoroughly precludes the extreme proposition, even a light scan of research literature is enough to discard it:
- No research I could find shows religious faith to be necessary either to general altruism or, more specifically, to charity, helpfulness, or compassionate acts. Charity, helpfulness, kindness exist regardless of a person’s religion or lack of it. In fact, charity/helpfulness shows up in little children prior to any religious indoctrination, prior to their having any religious faith. That should not be surprising, for the trait of helpfulness has been found even in non-human animals, chiefly primates.
But if helpfulness is a characteristic of both believers and unbelievers, are believers likely to demonstrate more? The scriptural urgings would seem to cause believers to have the edge, since their “natural” charity would be augmented by an extra measure due to their religion. One source we might inspect to find that difference would be, in the US, federal income tax returns.
There are immediate problems, however. For example, a significant amount of donations, though they qualify as charity under federal tax law, are for organizations not charitable in the sense I use in this essay (help to people in need). My tax return, for example, includes contributions to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Atlanta Food Bank, and the West Africa Fistula Foundation. Although each of these qualifies as a charitable deduction under tax law, only the last two are truly charities, the first is not. So the charity as meant in tax law may overestimate my charity and, by extension, the charity of nonbelievers in general.
Believers’ donations are similarly confounded, but worse. Consider a believer’s charity deductions for the Baptist Church, Doctors without Borders, and the Union of Concerned Scientists—all lawful deductions. But just as in my atheist’s list, one item doesn’t count (the third). Additionally, however, believers’ charities include another level of uncertainty. Donations to one’s church would include some amount of “real” charity and, in most cases, a significant percentage for costs of ministers, teachers, choir directors, and other church personnel and for costs of building maintenance, construction, utilities, and educational materials. Typically, only a small percentage is real charity; spreading the gospel, comfortable sanctuaries, and an inspiring façade are not. Just like my donations to a humanist ethics discussion hall, church donations are, in part, contributions to a private club.
My remarks thus far have not considered that there might even be damaging or “anti-charity” expenditures that qualify for the legal definition of charity. For example, some would conclude that the Catholic Church’s anti-condom work in Africa (and elsewhere) increases human pain and should be subtracted in counts of real charity. I’ll assume that donations to jihad organizations and, at one time, to maintain slavery would obviously count as negative charity. In perusing this topic, it was a surprise to me that religions can actually teach a “subtraction effect,” as implied in the Mormons’ Book of Moroni, vs 6-10, “A man being evil cannot do that which is good . . . ; it is not counted unto him for righteousness [italics mine, JC].” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, noting a “nullification effect” in Caritas Veritate International (a Catholic group specializing in charity and proselytizing) that “Charity without faith is useless.” I am unaware, however, of other religious sources that teach that for charity to be a good thing, it must be out of religiously acceptable motivation by a religiously faithful person. At any rate, I have not used any such criteria in these notes.)
What would experimental research reveal? (“Experimental” research differs from just comparing information as in the tax example cited above. It connotes the placement of subjects into different “treatment” groups, trying to remove the effects of all variables other than that being tested.) I’m not back in graduate school where dealing with such a question would require hours if not days in the library to accumulate and critically judge such research. I was trained in experimental design for doing research myself and also, pertinent here, the ability to find in published research the flaws that make its conclusions untrustworthy. Not only am I rusty at that, it would require far more inspection labor than I am willing to give. So I set out merely to look through a smattering of research, admittedly not enough to please my decades-ago professors. Below is an unrepresentative smattering of results, but their inconsistent findings led me to this provisional conclusion:
- Unfortunately, studies seeking an answer to this question are sufficiently mixed to render the matter inconclusive, at least at my level of inspection. That is, various studies were mixed about whether believers or nonbelievers are more charitable, helpful, or compassionate. That conclusion is presented here, prior to the miscellaneous studies and their findings excerpted below, because I assume no reader of this blog will wish to slog through it all to get to my summation as just stated.
However, whatever the source of persons’ charity/helpfulness, the findings of Elizabeth W. Dunn and Ashley Whillans are enlightening. They found what they termed the “Grinch effect,” citing the Grinch’s “small heart [growing] two sizes” upon grasping the spirit of Christmas giving. In their studies, spending money on others boosted the happiness of the giver and was even associated with a drop in blood pressure. Their research, they concluded, “points to the conclusion that embracing the spirit of generosity may not only be heartwarming; it may also be good for the heart.”
[This is the end of the body of this post. What follows is a random, unsummarized miscellany of theory and research findings, untidily formatted, related to the question of differential charity/helpfulness between persons of religious faith and persons without. Although I have not intended to insert bias into selecting the items, I cannot guarantee the list to be bias-free.]
ASSORTMENT OF VARIOUS RESEARCH THEORY AND FINDINGS
Here are excerpts, summarized wording, and frank plagiarism (mine) from of a number of studies and theories regarding helpfulness from person to person. (Well, soft plagiarism, at worst; I am not claiming any of the following wording to be my own.)
Several theories of helping agree that, in the long run, helping behavior benefits the giver as well as the receiver. One explanation involves actions guided by “social economics.” This action is called the “social exchange theory.” It states that human interactions are transactions that aim to maximize one’s rewards and minimize one’s costs. We exchange not only material goods and money but also social goods—love, services, information, status (Foa & Foa, 1975).
- Arousal: Cost-Reward Model. The arousal: cost-reward model suggests that people feel upset when they see a person in need and are motivated to do something to reduce the unpleasant arousal. People then weigh the costs of helping versus not helping. The clearer the need for help, the more likely people are to help. The presence of others inhibits helping behavior due to diffusion of responsibility, a belief that someone else will help. Environmental and personality characteristics also influence helping.
- Empathy-Altruism Theory. According to the empathy-altruism theory, helpfulness is seen in those who have empathy with the person in need.
- Evolutionary Theory. Evolutionary theories propose that people help others to ensure the survival of their genes, at the risk of endangering themselves. There are two specific types of helping in the Evolutionary Theory. One is kin protection, which claims that devotion goes to one’s children before themselves. The other is reciprocity, which has the same components of the reciprocity norm. Basically, if you help someone, they will return the favor.
- The Reciprocity Norm. An expectation that people will help, not hurt, those who have helped them.
- Social Responsibility Norm. An expectation that people will help those needing help.
Circumstances that inhibit or enhance helpfulness include:
- Number of bystanders. The bystander effect states that victims are less likely to get help when many people are around (Latane & Darley, 1975).
- Helping when someone else does. People are more likely to help others if they have just observed someone else modeling that specific helping behavior, e.g. Los Angeles drivers offering help to a female driver with a flat tire (Bryan & Test, 1967), New Jersey Christmas shoppers dropping money in a Salvation Army kettle (Bryan & Test, 1967), British adults donating blood (Rushton & Campbell, 1977).
- Time pressures. People leisurely on their way to an unimportant appointment usually stopped to help, but those late for an important date seldom stopped (Batson et al., 1978).
- Similarity. People are more empathetic and helpful toward those similar to them (Miller et al., 2001), e.g. in dress (Emswiller et al., 1971; Gary et al., 1991), in race (Benson et al., 1976; Clark, 1974; Sissons, 1981), in beliefs (Myers, 2005).
Who Will Help?
- Personality traits. People high in positive emotionality, empathy, and self-efficacy are most likely to be concerned and helpful (Bierhoff et al., 1991; Eisenberg et al., 1991; Krueger et al., 2001). Those high in self-monitoring are attuned to others’ expectations and are therefore helpful if they think helpfulness will be socially rewarded (White & Gerstein, 1987).
- Religious faith. People who rate religion as “important” are more likely to report working among the needy (Colasanto, 1989; Wuthnow, 1994; Deuser & DeNeve, 1995), to campaign for social justice (Benson et al., 1980; Hansen et al., 1995; Penner, 2002), and to give away higher percent of their incomes (Hodgkinson et al., 1990, 1992), especially over the long-term (Myers, 2005). Furthermore, they are likely to give money to missionary causes, rather than secular, objective organizations that have no motive of religious conversion.
How to Increase Helping?
Research studies by social scientists have suggested that the following factors can help to increase helping:
- Reduce ambiguity, increasing responsibility. Personal appeals for help are much more effective than posters and media announcements (Jason et al., 1984). Nonverbal appeals can also be effective when they are personalized (Snder et al., 1974; Omoto & Snyder, 2002). So does reduction of anonymity (Solomon & Solomon, 1978; Solomon et al., 1981).
- Guilt and concern for self-image. People who have been reprimanded for their transgressions are more likely to offer help than those who have not been reprimanded (Katzev, 1978). People who have given door-in-the-face responses are likely to agree to a smaller and more reasonable request (Cialdini et al., 1975). Labeling people as helpful can also increase helpful contributions (Kraut, 1973).
- Teaching moral inclusion. Broadening the range of people whose well-being concerns us (Batson, 1983) and inviting advantaged people to put themselves in others’ shoes, to imagine how they feel (Batson et al., 2003), helps.
- Modeling altruism. It’s better not to publicize rampant tax cheating, littering and teen drinking, and instead to emphasize – to define a norm of – people’s widespread honesty, cleanliness, and abstinence (Cialdini et al., 2003). Norms for generosity could perhaps be cultivated by simply including a new line on tax forms that requires people to compute – and thus to know – their annual donations as a percentage of income (Ayres & Nalebuff, 2003). Modeling effects were also apparent within the families of European Christians who risked their lives to rescue Jews in the 1930s and 1940s and of 1950s (London, 1970; Oliner & Oliner, 1988; Rosenhan, 1970; Staub, 1989,1991,1992).
|In the 1950s, a scientific study of about 2,000 Episcopalians across the U.S. turned up “no discernible relationship between involvement [in the Church] and charitable acts. In some cases, a negative relationship appears.”
In a questionnaire-based study of male college students in 1960, there was only a slight correlation between altruism and belief in God, and no correlation at all between altruism and attendance of religious services.
Interviews with randomly selected adults in 1965 found that nonbelievers were “nearly as frequently rated as being a good Samaritan, having love and compassion for their fellow man, and being humble as the most devout…”
Less than half of college students in a 1975 study resisted the temptation to violate an honors code on an exam, and religious beliefs were unrelated to honesty. (In fact, atheists were the only group in which a majority did not cheat.) Religion was also irrelevant to the students’ willingness to volunteer time with disabled children.
In 1984, a researcher who interviewed more than 700 people from different neighborhoods in a medium-size city expected to find that religious people were especially sociable, helpful to their neighbors, and likely to participate in neighborhood organizations. Instead, she found that religious involvement was unrelated to these activities.
In their study of people who rescued Jews from the Nazis, Samuel and Pearl Oliner found that “rescuers did not differ significantly from bystanders or all nonrescuers with respect to their religious identification, religious education, and their own religiosity or that of their parents.”
In comparing 18 month old humans and free range chimps, rewarding was not necessary to elicit helping behaviors in either species; helping was sustained even if the efforts for helping were slightly raised.
Altruistic motivations are already apparent early in human ontogeny, requiring not much socialization (if any). Moreover, altruistic motivations to help others do not seem to be unique to humans. This speaks in favor of the possibility that our phylogenetic ancestor already possessed at least the rudimentary capacity to act on the behalf of others.
Chronicle of Philanthroopy “Religious Americans Give More, New Study Finds”
By Alex Daniels 11/25/2013
The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.
Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.
About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.
“If your goal is to connect with donors, it’s clear that one of the things that matters to them is their religious orientation,” says Shawn Landres, Jumpstart’s chief executive and a co-author of the report.
The study of more than 4,800 American households, which covers members of five major religious denominations and people who are unaffiliated with any faith, was derived from two national surveys on giving compiled this year and analyzed by Jumpstart, a nonprofit research group, and researchers at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The report used data from two surveys: the National Study of American Religious Giving and the National Study of American Jewish Giving.
Among the findings:
- Giving rates among black Protestants, evangelical Protestants, Jews, mainline Protestants—which include Episcopalians, members of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans—and Roman Catholics were about the same. However, while roughly half of all members of the other faith groups contribute to religious congregations, only 37 percent of Jews did the same.
- American households donated a median $375 to congregations, $150 to religiously identified nonprofits, and $250 to secular charities in 2012.
- Black Protestants, followed by Roman Catholics and Jews, were the most likely to give out of the desire to help the needy.
- The three most popular charitable causes for all households regardless of religious affiliation were, in descending order: basic social services, “combined purpose” organizations (like United Way), and health care.
The study also looked at how much money went not only to congregations but also to charities with religious identities but secular missions. It shows that religious giving is sweeping: Forty-one percent of all charitable gifts from households last year went to congregations, while 32 percent went to other nonprofits with a religious identity and 27 percent went to secular charities. The results of that piece of the study have an 8 percent margin of error.
The immediately previous study
was challenged by the following one [JC]
Patheos “Are Religious People Really More Generous Than Atheists? A New Study Puts That Myth to Rest”
By Hemant Mehta, 11/28/2013
Donors in Southern states, for instance, give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity — both to religious and to secular groups — compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.
Before you jump to conclusions that religion and generosity were somehow connected, keep in mind that those numbers included giving “both to religious and to secular groups”… In other words, church counted as charity. But when you excluded donations given to churches and religious groups, the map changed dramatically, giving an edge to the least religious states in the country:
Of course, that didn’t stop the media from using headlines like this: “Religious States Donate More to Charity than Secular States.” Earlier this week, a new report released by the National Study of American Religious Giving put a rest to that myth that religious people are more charitable than the non-religious. It turns out nearly 75% of charitable giving by all Americans… benefits places of worship and faith-based charities. A lot of the money isn’t helping the poor and less fortunate. It’s going to the church.
Jay Michaelson of Religious Dispatches explains: The study found that 65% of religiously-affiliated people donate to congregations or charitable organizations. (More on that statistic later.) 80% of Americans are religiously affiliated. And 65% of 80% is just about… 55% of the total. In other words, the religious people who are giving say they’re giving because of religion. And they’re overwhelmingly giving to religion as well.
Probably the most notable statistics, though, are those which compare religious and non-religious philanthropy. Religion is supposed to make us better people, which includes, I assume, being more generous. So, is it the case that religious people give more generously than the non-religious?
Well, yes and no. Remember that statistic, that 65% of religious people donate to charity? The non-religious figure is 56%. But according to the study, the entire 9% difference is attributed to religious giving to congregations and religious organizations. So, yes, religion causes people to give more — to religion itself.
A lot of religious giving, then, is self-serving, in the guise of helping others. Often, the donations benefit their faith. Donations to religious congregations — primarily for religious activity or spiritual development — represent about two fifths of household giving nationally……
“Much of what has previously been thought of one-dimensionally as giving to ‘secular’ purposes actually goes to religiously identified organizations,” said report co-author Dr. Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of economics and philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. He added that innovative research methods allowed for a clearer picture of the way religious ties shape the giving landscape.
It’s not like there aren’t secular alternatives to religious charities. There’s no shortage of secular groups that feed the hungry and house the poor and fight for the under-privileged. But religious people aren’t giving to those groups as much as they’re giving to groups that do good while also proselytizing. (Which means some of that money being donated is going toward spreading the faith, not actually helping other people.)
In any case, we now have even more proof that religion doesn’t make you any more likely to be generous or willing to help other people. What religious people have that people like us don’t are excellent vessels for giving. But if we can offer secular ways to give, there’s no reason our numbers can’t match theirs — and be more cost-effective at the same time.
BBC poll shows that religious people give more to charity than non-religious. Maybe…
Posted: Sun, 08 Jun 2014 09:02 by Terry Sanderson
Here we go again – the BBC has commissioned a survey that apparently shows that religious people are more likely to give to charity than non-religious people.
If you look at the results, you see that the difference in charitable giving between believers and non-believers is not that big. The headline results state:
“Three quarters of people in living in England who practise a religion (77%) have given to charity in the past month. This compares to only two thirds of English people who do not practise a religion (67%).” What the poll does not tell us is what the religious people donated their money to.
This is important because a similar poll in America ran with the headline that the Southern States of the USA (the ones shown to be most religious) gave significantly more to charity than the Northern States (least religious). But when you took out the donations given directly to churches rather than to humanitarian charities, the figures reversed. The Southern States were donating vast amounts to their churches, most of which was spent directly on church activities such as building maintenance, salaries and proselytising. The Northern States were donating to real charity that directly helped people in need.
In this country, every donation made to a church counts as charity and is presumably included in these latest figures and will benefit from tax relief that will be provided by us all, believer and non-believer alike.
However, I suspect that this poll will be grabbed by some as implicit proof that religion makes people “better” or more compassionate. Non-religious people, some religious leaders will rush to explain, have no reason to be sympathetic to the plight of others. Nor are they compelled by the religious injunctions that guide believers. Which, in turn, leads to the conclusion that atheists have no real moral compass.
The only trouble with this reasoning is that it isn’t true.
I’m really sorry to have to even make this argument – it shouldn’t matter who gives what to charity or what their motives are – but given that the BBC has decided to make an issue of it, here we go:
Every year, Forbes magazine lists the fifty most generous charitable givers in the United States (and therefore, the world). The first three on the list are all self-declared atheists.
Warren Buffet has donated $40.7 billion to charities working in “health, education and humanitarian causes”.
Bill Gates donated $27.6 billion to “global health and development and education”.
George Soros has donated $10 billion to humanitarian causes of various kinds.
The previous possessor of the record for charitable giving before these three came along was Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie, a steel industry mogul, once the second richest man in the world, who also gave billions to aid the poor and the uneducated – and who was also a self-defined non-believer.
Personally I find these polls aimed at boosting the image of religion and implicitly criticising the non-religious to be rather sad. They indicate a kind of inferiority complex among some Christians, a constant need to be reassured that they are morally superior.
I am not in any way trying to belittle the charitable efforts that religious people engage in. All help for the disadvantaged and suffering is useful, but the divisive message of this poll and others like it (“religious people are happier“, “religious people are healthier” etc.) does nothing to unite us in a common cause.
When there is a big appeal on TV, for instance, such as Children in Need or as when the tsunami struck South East Asia, vast amounts of money are donated by the British people. These hundreds of millions cannot all be generated by the generosity of religious believers.
Not when you take into account another, far more interesting finding from the survey (a finding which, for some reason, the BBC chose not to highlight).
When asked the question: “Do you practise a religion? By practising we mean that you pray, read a holy book weekly or attend religious services of gatherings at least once a week.”
Only 23% said they did, but a massive 73% said that they didn’t.
Given what statisticians are always telling us, about people overstating their religious observance in polls, it is likely that this disinterest in practising religion is even more dramatic than the present figures indicate.
It is a sorry thing for the BBC to have produced this poll and then spun it in the way it has. It adds fuel to a religious fire that need not be burning.
Religious kids don’t share as much
By Brooks Hays | 11/5/2015
“The secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness,” said psychologist Jean Decety. “In fact, it does just the opposite.” New research suggests religion has a negative effect on the altruism of children. Religion may save your soul, but it won’t necessarily make you more altruistic.
In a recent study, children from more religious backgrounds and upbringings were less likely to exhibit altruistic behaviors. The study analyzed the behaviors of children, between the ages of 5 and 12, from Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey and the United States. More religious kids were less likely to share and more likely to exact harsh punishments for bad behavior than were their less religious peers.
“Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others,” study author Jean Decety, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, said in a press release. “In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous.”
The worldwide studies had groups of children participate in experiments designed to measure their willingness to share and their “moral sensitivity.”
Sharing was measured using the so-called dictator game, whereby each child is given ten stickers and told he or she can share as many or as few of them with an unseen child. Moral sensitivity was measured by having children watch short animations featuring a character either accidentally or purposefully bumping into another character. After watching, children were asked to judge their guilt and dish out various levels of punishment.
Children from Christian and Muslim backgrounds tended to give away fewer stickers. They also were harsher judges, handing out stricter penalties. Children from atheist, agnostic or non-religious families tended to give away more stickers and were more forgiving.
Though children of all backgrounds tend to share more as they get older, the increase in altruism among religious kids was stunted.
“The negative relation between religiousness and spirituality and altruism changes across age, with those children with longer experience of religion in the household exhibiting the greatest negative relations,” researcher wrote in their new paper, published this week in the journal Current Biology.
Researchers didn’t attempt to explain why religion has this effect. Perhaps adults and their ideas get in the way of what comes naturally to young people. Recent research has shown that kids as young as three are surprisingly empathetic.
“These results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism,” Decety said of his latest finding. “They challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior, and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development — suggesting the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite.”
The new results also serve as an interesting parallel to other studies that show participation in a religion and religious community have small but statistically significant positive mental health effects on adolescents.
Study finds that children raised without religion show more empathy and kindness
November 5, 2015 by San Arel
A study conducted by the University of Chicago has found that children raised in non-religious households are kinder and more altruistic than those raised with religion.
The study which was published in the journal Current Biology looked at 1170 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, USA, and South Africa) and examined “the religiousness of their household, and parent-reported child empathy and sensitivity to justice.”
The study found that “family religious identification decreases children’s altruistic behaviors” and “children from religious households are harsher in their punitive tendencies.”
In other words, children raised in the absence of religion are more giving and generous, as the study states:
Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior.
“Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others. In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous,” said Prof. Jean Decety who led the study.
According to the study as well, the findings did not change much over time and children raised in very religious households didn’t follow the natural trend of being more giving with age.
Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But children from households identifying as Christian and Muslim were significantly less likely than children from non-religious households to share their stickers. The negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.
The study also showed that punishment in religious households was much more severe as religious parents “favored stronger punishments for anti-social behavior and judged such behavior more harshly than non-religious children. These results support previous studies of adults, which have found religiousness is linked with punitive attitudes toward interpersonal offenses.”
“Together, these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism. They challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior, and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development—suggesting the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite,” Decety said.
The study comes as little surprise to those of us who raise kids outside of religion as I outlined in my own book Parenting Without God. Children raised without dictatorship type rules and threats of eternal punishment just seem to turn out nicer.
This does not mean that religious children cannot be good people or even grow up to be good people, but it does imply strongly that religious parenting is not an ideal parenting method and as Decety points out, it gives evidence to the case for a stronger secularization of the U.S. and the world.
Author: Frank Minero November 8, 2014 10:55 pm
An eye-opening survey conducted in the UK reveals a truth many in the United States will find shocking. When asked if atheists are more or less moral than religious people, our allies across the pond favor atheists.
The British feel those who identify as atheists are more likely to be good people. In fact, 12.5% of Britons believe atheists are more moral, while only 6% say atheists are less moral.
Fewer than a quarter of Britons believe religion is a force for good. On the contrary, over half believe religion does more harm than good. Even 20% of Britons who describe themselves as ‘very religious’ are on record stating religion is harmful to society.
The poll, conducted by Survation for the HuffingtonPost UK’s series Beyond Belief doesn’t address why Britons have come to this conclusion, however faith in God and religion is falling in America as well. Jerome Baggett, a professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California told The San Francisco Business Times why he thinks people are retreating from religion in the United States,
“Religious institutions themselves have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of many Americans due to sexual and financial scandals, or political overreaching ‘by the so-called Christian right.’”
Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, told The Huffington Post UK she found the results of the poll “striking.”
“This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK. What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some to that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.”
Woodhead explains the reason Britons are distancing themselves from religion are “numerous” and include: sex scandals involving Catholic priests and rabbis, as well as Islamist terror attacks and conflict in the Middle East,
“I’d add religious leaderships’ drift away from the liberal values, equality, tolerance, diversity, [which is] embraced by many of their own followers and often championed by non-religious and atheist people more forcefully”.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association had this to say,
“This survey just confirms what we know is the common sense of people in Britain today – that whether you are religious or not has very little to do with your morality. Most people understand that morality and good personal and social values are not tied to religious belief systems, but are the result of our common heritage and experience as human beings: social animals that care for each other and are kind to others because we understand that they are human too. Not only that, people understand that religious beliefs themselves can be harmful to morality: encouraging intolerance, inflexibility and the doing of harm in the name of a greater good. We only need to look around us to perceive that fact.”