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Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than Are Non-Believers - Comments

Roedy's Avatar Comment 1 by Roedy

In my experience Christians are far more interested in enumerating and punishing other people's sins than in compassion. This is not new.

In the early 70s I met a Greek Orthodox monk. He told me a story which I think was based on Anton Chekhov’s The Murder. It goes roughly like this:

Matvey Terekhov lived in Russia with his cousin Yakov, who ran an inn. Matvey was once extremely religious and ascetic, but left asceticism behind. Yakov, on the other hand, was obsessively religious. During Lent they both fasted eating nothing but boiled potatoes. Yakov discovered that Matvey was secretly pouring some oil on his potatoes. Yakov was horrified. Yakov was overcome with anger and Aglaya, Yakov’s wife, hit Matvey over the head with a bottle, and killed him.

That is a great metaphor for what goes wrong when you base your life on endless petty thou-shalt-nots. You lose your sense of proportion. This story applies even more to Muslims that Kristians. They are driven nuts by fear of eternal roasting for violating trivial rules.

Tue, 01 May 2012 13:21:21 UTC | #938657

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 2 by aquilacane

The religious build an imaginary/delusional world of self importance, atheists and the less religious live in a reality that acknowledges the existence of other people.

I would wager that a large portion of charity given by the super religious is entirely for their own salvation. They probably couldn't give a damn about the heathens they claim to help.

Tue, 01 May 2012 13:40:43 UTC | #938665

Greyman's Avatar Comment 3 by Greyman

Comment 1 by Roedy :

Matvey Terekhov lived in Russia with his cousin Yakov, who ran an inn. Matvey was once extremely religious and ascetic, but left asceticism behind. Yakov, on the other hand, was obsessively religious. During Lent they both fasted eating nothing but boiled potatoes. Yakov discovered that Matvey was secretly pouring some oil on his potatoes. Yakov was horrified. Yakov was overcome with anger and Aglaya, Yakov’s wife, hit Matvey over the head with a bottle, and killed him.

Waaait.  That story does not explain Aglaya's motivation.

Tue, 01 May 2012 13:45:55 UTC | #938666

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 4 by crookedshoes

I always tell people that if the only reason you are being good is because "Santa is watching"; then you are not really being good. If the motivation behind the behavior is self serving then it trivializes the behavior.

Tue, 01 May 2012 13:52:43 UTC | #938667

strangebrew's Avatar Comment 5 by strangebrew

Comment 1 by Roedy

They are driven nuts by fear of eternal roasting for violating trivial rules.

Quite agree. And who, dreams up and promotes these petty trivial rules?

The sheeple?... or the sheeple's shepherd?

At a guess would that not be the older, incompetant incoherent and sexually dysfunctional males the more ignorant and highly superstitious the cretin the more draconian the rules? these same cretins that love to spout bigotries as laudable and correct ...intolerance as admirable...and hatred as commendable.

All based on knicker wetting fear and cowardice of reality and their own ultimate death!

Which explains quite explicitly why xians have no bother with blood letting of epic proportions. That they display less empathy is not a surprise...that they claim they do is more so!

Tue, 01 May 2012 13:57:30 UTC | #938668

GreatWhiteShark's Avatar Comment 6 by GreatWhiteShark

Erm, Im not sure this article actually helps atheistic arguments at all. If a person does good because they should, then thats more logical than someone doing it because they are emotionally driven. Acting on your emotions is not a scientfic approach to life.

Of course doing it not to roast in hell is shallow and meaningless, but if a person persues decency based on a simple moral obligation to do good no matter what, then its more comparable to the unbiased method of science which is motivated by a similar perspective on truth, regardless of how you feel about it.

This article suggests that atheists are more motivated by their feelings then religious types, which I dont see as valid when we consider the irrational and highly emotional testimonies/actions of fundamental believers.

I am confused.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:17:03 UTC | #938676

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 7 by Sjoerd Westenborg

Finally a counter to the 'religious people donate more to charity' argument when discussing morality.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:20:12 UTC | #938677

Vitalic's Avatar Comment 8 by Vitalic

Just confirms what we suspected all along, that the only reason religious people are good is because they want to please god and get into heaven.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:34:04 UTC | #938682

MsChelle's Avatar Comment 9 by MsChelle

One of my 4th great-grandfathers was a Quaker who became excommunicated after paying a military tax and marrying outside of the Society. Afterwards, he went on to establish a Free Christian Church in Philly. In the nine generations since him, we as parents have positively educated our children about all beliefs - not just Christian. So, it is not unlike me to vehemently defend anyone who is being bullied for their beliefs.

In my lifetime, I have at times thought that God was real, and when visible, he looked like the image painted on the Sistine Chapel and I've also thought that God was real, but looked more like my brain processing self-conscious thought. Whenever someone questions God's existence, I very often ask if they have ever considered that he might just be their self-conscious. It has made them think.

Anyway, I have seen many life-long church members, agnostics, and atheist display apathy and hatred toward those who are not like them. So, I don't think it is necessarily something based upon a person's level of religious belief. Compassion is something that I think we all feel should just come naturally, but may actually be more influenced by what others teach us, rather than how we should naturally react.

So, because there are un-compassionate believers and non-believers, I think that it's more a matter of being less compassionate because you've been taught to be that way, rather than being less compassionate because you are deeply devout in your religious beliefs.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:41:29 UTC | #938684

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 10 by SaganTheCat

Acting on your emotions is not a scientfic approach to life.

that doesn't make sense. refusing to act on your emotions is not a scientific aproach either. live your life by philosophy and let science handle everything else.

what tis shows is religious or not, we all act on our emotions, if we didn't what else is there to act on? we only accept science because the use of logic is emotoinally satisfying, any other reason would be acting as some sort of slave to science. believers act on fear, humanists act on compassion, if you're questioning what you should act on you have problems. eat when you're hungry, drink when you're thirsty, hide when you're frightened. why you do what you do is unimportant, how you treat others is what matters

when xtians delight in telling us how jesus preached "love thy neighbour" it's worth reminding them he had to. the people he was preaching to believed in god

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:54:36 UTC | #938689

zengardener's Avatar Comment 11 by zengardener

Perhaps any society that teaches that there are some people who are completely worthless, is going to produce this effect.

It would be difficult to find a control group though. I cannot think of any societies that are both atheistic and classist.

The actual paper is behind a paywall. Can anyone bring it out into the light? I don't have $25 to spare.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:54:37 UTC | #938690

zengardener's Avatar Comment 12 by zengardener

Moderator....Can we have One thread please? This paper is double referenced.

Tue, 01 May 2012 14:59:33 UTC | #938692

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 13 by AtheistEgbert

Well, those are interesting results, but then not so surprising.

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:03:32 UTC | #938694

brighterstill's Avatar Comment 14 by brighterstill

Comment 4 by crookedshoes :

I always tell people that if the only reason you are being good is because "Santa is watching"; then you are not really being good. If the motivation behind the behavior is self serving then it trivializes the behavior.

Except, strictly speaking, all behaviour is self-serving. I do good because it makes me feel good inside. If it made me feel sick to give to charity, I might not do it. The fact that I do it for the warm fuzzy feeling (or, more correctly, the alleviation of the sick feeling generated by others' misery) isn't that much different than the fact that highly religious people do it for some imaginary sky parent. The one major difference is that acting in a way that honestly reflects how I feel about other people means no priest or pope has a finger on my moral compass and I'm not misled to believe I would be incapable of knowing right from wrong without them.

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:04:18 UTC | #938695

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 15 by Sjoerd Westenborg

Comment 3 by MsChelle :

One of my 4th great-grandfathers was a Quaker who became excommunicated after paying a military tax and marrying outside of the Society. Afterwards, he went on to establish a Free Christian Church in Philly. In the nine generations since him, we as parents have positively educated our children about all beliefs - not just Christian. So, it is not unlike me to vehemently defend anyone who is being bullied for their beliefs.

I'm sorry if I, or the commenters here in general, sometimes cross the line between critisizing and attacking (but bullying? no.) However, on this thread I've yet to see an unnescessarily negative comment.

And how about their scientific education?

In my lifetime, I have at times thought that God was real, and when visible, he looked like the image painted on the Sistine Chapel and I've also thought that God was real, but looked more like my brain processing self-conscious thought. Whenever someone questions God's existence, I very often ask if they have ever considered that he might just be their self-conscious. It has made them think.

But if a god is just a misunderstood word for sub/supra/unconsciousness (you pick), can it still be called god? Are we not just inviting miscommunication then? Also, if a god is simply an individual's mental processes, then I see no point at all for religion. It would basically be like saying: 'The God in my head is better, so people can forget what their's is saying and listen to mine. And mine is against the use of condoms.'

And what is your view on a god at the moment? I'm genuinely curious.

Anyway, I have seen many life-long church members, agnostics, and atheist display apathy and hatred toward those who are not like them. So, I don't think it is necessarily something based upon a person's level of religious belief. Compassion is something that I think we all feel should just come naturally, but may actually be more influenced by what others teach us, rather than how we should naturally react.

So, because there are un-compassionate believers and non-believers, I think that it's more a matter of being less compassionate because you've been taught to be that way, rather than being less compassionate because you are deeply devout in your religious beliefs.

I think you interpreted the results wrong. The studies don't show who is more compassionate, but rather what motivation lies behind charitable behaviour. The less religious you are, the more your altruism is motivated by compassion. The more religious you are, the more it is motivated by other factors such as a reward in heaven, social conventions etc.

No one is saying religious people are less compassionate, good and bad people can be found everywhere. However, the amount of donations by religious people no longer supports the claim religious people are more compassionate. (You atheists have no morality!)

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:09:41 UTC | #938697

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 16 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:18:42 UTC | #938700

Moderator's Avatar Comment 17 by Moderator

Apologies for the double-posting. Both threads now merged into this one. The mods

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:23:27 UTC | #938701

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 18 by SaganTheCat

Except, strictly speaking, all behaviour is self-serving

correct. the point is the behaviour we're lauding is the behaviour religious people value.

the important message here has nothing to do with who's "best" but more importantly it's another big fat nail in the "religion=morality argument" coffin and proof of another domain religion can no longer claim as their own.

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:31:47 UTC | #938705

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 19 by crookedshoes

brighterstill, great point.

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:35:41 UTC | #938706

hemidemisemigod's Avatar Comment 20 by hemidemisemigod

If god had meant us to help the needy, he'd have given us more money.

Tue, 01 May 2012 15:39:31 UTC | #938708

Anvil's Avatar Comment 21 by Anvil

Comment 3 by MsChelle

Welcome, by the way.

Your post is interesting and your point well put. I too have seen hatred and apathy (and generosity) to others from both atheists and theists. I should point out that I've seen more of the negative sort from the religious, but that may have been a special case - for example living in Northern Ireland.

However, as someone pointed out on another thread yesterday, the plural of anecdote is not evidence, is it?

An argument often put forward by theists is that without a belief in a god an individual is left in some form of moral vacuum. This argument, often without any evidence - even that of anecdote - is generally (and easily) countered by scientific developments in the understanding of reciprocal altruism / kin selection and a concomitant development of a morality through biological necessity, ie natural selection, that precedes all known religions, let alone the modern monotheisms.

Confronted by evidence, Theists, backed into their last refuge, then move the debate on to individual generosity, and again, this is driven by the 'Aha, but...' anecdote.

This can be frustrating. People with a lifetime of belief under their belts have a tendency to readily believe any anecdote that puts their own beliefs in a good light and shows them to be right. But this way surely lies madness, doesn't it?

This inability to require evidence can be so harmful and leads to perfectly normal people acting disgracefully and inhumanely to other human beings whilst at the same time believing they are doing good. Being charitable - being moral.

So how are we to tell, then, what is true and what is not - or at least what is more true, what is provisionally true?

We have to have some way of distinguishing fact from fiction and this, hopefully, is what this paper is attempting to do: The application of science to collated data - it is not someones point of view.

Our anecdotes, both mine and yours, pale next to the application of science to data. Of course this may be bad science, I don't know as I haven't read the paper - but we can at least be confident that it will have the critical review of its peers. Something our theistic friends have no requirement for.

I'd rather base an argument on facts. Wouldn't you?

Anvil.

Tue, 01 May 2012 16:25:30 UTC | #938724

Layla's Avatar Comment 22 by Layla

In the final experiment, it appears to say that the non-believers really were more generous than the religious people but in the second experiment it's not clear whether the non-believers were actually more generous or whether their generosity was just more dependant on whether or not they were in a compassionate mood. In other words, was it that the religious participants were forcing themselves to behave generously even when they weren't in the mood to do so or is it that they were actually less generous across the board?

A couple of people have said things to the effect that if good behaviour is motivated by religion that means it must be self-serving, out of a desire to please or placate God but that's not necessarily the case. It's possible that for some people the part their religion plays in their decision to do good might actually serve more like a reminder to always try to make a concious effort to do good even when your natural motivations like compassion are running low and not out of any desire to score browny points. Basically, we can't automatically assume the behaviour is self serving just because it's motivated by religion.

Tue, 01 May 2012 16:58:34 UTC | #938732

ColdThinker's Avatar Comment 23 by ColdThinker

This is disappointing news. Based on this research, if it is to be trusted, the highly religious are more reasonable about helping strangers in need. 

The strangers in need should always be helped, on daily basis, whether or not one has just watched some weepy TV documentary or seen an ad with a starving child in it. Actually, I find it embarassing that my fellow atheists need some emotional manipulation to help others. 

There are distressed people all over the world, and they need help. And they don't care about your motivation to help. All that counts is the amount and quality of the aid. We all know this. So why are some atheists such idiots that they need their emotions manipulated by film makers and ad agencies to realize the need for help? Where's the rationality in this? 

Shame on them.

Tue, 01 May 2012 17:05:37 UTC | #938736

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 24 by Vorlund

Comment 1 by Roedy :

In my experience Christians are far more interested in enumerating and punishing other people's sins than in compassion. This is not new.

My experience is much the same. They are not compassionate they judge on their own petty rules and prejudices and never turn the other cheek. Their bench mark for morality and social intraction is the dubious memes about 'proper conduct' that they swap among themselves.

@Coldthinker

Out of sight out of mind as the saying goes. Proximity to a problem is a great mover of human action, most people are only likely to have any awareness of the situations or feel 'close' to where aid is needed due to film makers and it is known that seeing suffering activates responses in those parts of the brain which deal with empathy and emotional responses. It isn't exclusive to atheists.

Tue, 01 May 2012 17:19:37 UTC | #938739

Sue Blue's Avatar Comment 25 by Sue Blue

I remember many kindnesses and seemingly sincere acts of compassion toward me from my fellow evangelicals when I was one of them, but when I left the church these same concerned, helpful people mysteriously disappeared. Also, one of the reasons I left the church was the perception, which slowly dawned on me, that the only reason these people were so concerned about me wasn't the fact that I was a needy young single mother living in poverty, but that I was an example, a point in their favor, a gold star for their church - "Look at this young Jezebel we rescued from the depths of sin and brought to Jesus. Aren't we just the best! How many salvation points do we get for this one?" Sure enough, as soon as I stopped coming to church and explained that I no longer believed, the helpfulness stopped and the aggrieved whining and threats of hellfire started.

This realization was crystallized in a single incident. I was out trying to shovel my driveway during a blizzard so I could get to work. It was exhausting and futile; I couldn't move the two-foot deep snow fast enough. I lived in what was called an "Adventist ghetto" - all my neighbors were fellow Adventists. During this time several of my neighbors drove by on the county road and ignored me as I lay collapsed in exhaustion on the snowbank. Then a complete stranger drove by in a pickup truck with a plow attachment. He turned around, got out to make sure I was okay, plowed my driveway, and drove away. For the rest of the winter I would come out in the morning after a snowfall and my drive would be plowed. He never even told me his name or where he lived, but he definitely wasn't a member of my church. Shortly thereafter, I quit the church for good.

Tue, 01 May 2012 17:28:36 UTC | #938741

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 26 by xsjadolateralus

Go figure, when you mandate morality it becomes bureaucratic and ineffectual. It becomes a ghost of morality.

Religious people are less concerned with morality and compassion because they are in the morality and compassion club already. Why do anything else? You've arrived! You're here, in the club, you can just relax, don't worry about being good and trying to help humans, you are literally in the moral club and needn't worry about doing any more.

They have a golden ticket into heaven, why try harder?

Tue, 01 May 2012 17:29:51 UTC | #938742

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 27 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Data Monkey

Tue, 01 May 2012 17:39:12 UTC | #938745

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 28 by Jonathan Dore

"Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people."

And who are they less trusted by? Most obviously and strongly, by religious people. So here we have two separate indicators -- attitudes towards atheists and behaviour when asked to trust strangers in an experiment (see the article in the para before the section I quoted) -- that both show religious people to be less inclined to trust others, i.e. to be more suspicious. Lack of social trust is a hallmark of societies with high levels of inequality -- and the US is in a league of its own among Western nations when it comes to economic inequality. So it looks as if the weakness of social welfare systems and the strength of religiosity in the US are in fact intimately related.

Tue, 01 May 2012 18:01:11 UTC | #938751

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 29 by Peter Grant

Freaking zombies! No wonder they can ignore the problem of evil and the suffering all around them, they're barely aware of it.

Tue, 01 May 2012 18:02:00 UTC | #938752

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 30 by AtheistEgbert

Comment 23 by ColdThinker :

This is disappointing news. Based on this research, if it is to be trusted, the highly religious are more reasonable about helping strangers in need. 

The strangers in need should always be helped, on daily basis, whether or not one has just watched some weepy TV documentary or seen an ad with a starving child in it. Actually, I find it embarassing that my fellow atheists need some emotional manipulation to help others. 

There are distressed people all over the world, and they need help. And they don't care about your motivation to help. All that counts is the amount and quality of the aid. We all know this. So why are some atheists such idiots that they need their emotions manipulated by film makers and ad agencies to realize the need for help? Where's the rationality in this? 

Shame on them.

Shaming people or creating guilt is emotional manipulation and not reasonable. Also, what do you mean by 'help'? If I walk past a homeless person, and then let them sleep in my house, is that helping them or is that being foolish?

I consider all people the same, whether religious or non-religious, equally moral as well as equally immoral, but I think religion creates obedience, through manipulation, and I don't see that as 'good'.

Tue, 01 May 2012 18:17:57 UTC | #938757