ONTD Political

Study Reveals Atheists Are MORE Compassionate And Generous Than Highly Religious People

7:47 pm - 05/02/2012
For years, religious conservatives, despite their hatred for the poor and sick, have been denouncing atheists, agnostics, and those they feel are less religious, such as liberals, as being godless heathens who are destroying the morality of America. A new study, however, finds that less religious people are actually more compassionate and generous than highly religious people.

In a study published in the latest edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, researchers performed three experiments and concluded that highly religious people are apparently more stingy with money and less compassionate overall than those who are less religious.

First, researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults in which they were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement,

“When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.”

Less religious participants who agreed with the statement were more likely than those who are more religious to give to charity and help homeless people. The study found “that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals.”

In another experiment, 101 American adults were asked to watch one of two separate videos. One video was neutral, while the second video portrayed children living in poverty. After being given ten “lab dollars,” the participants were told to give any amount they wanted to a total stranger. According to UC Berkeley social psychologist and co-author of the study Robb Willer, “The compassion-inducing video had a big effect” on the generosity of the least religious, “but it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.”

The last experiment asked 200+ college students “to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games” in which they were given money to share – or not – with a stranger. In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount. Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.”

The research clearly shows that less religious people are more likely to be compassionate and generous toward others, while highly religious people are less likely to show empathy for their fellow citizens.

Willer states that, “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. Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not. The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

This study flies in the face of conservative claims that America is losing it’s morality because of a lack of religion. Of course, conservatives will attack the study as having a liberal bias because it was done by UC Berkeley in California, which Rick Santorum falsely contends doesn’t teach American history. But based on this study, it looks like we’d all be more compassionate with a little less religion in our lives.


cordelia_gray 2nd-May-2012 07:43 pm (UTC)
Interesting, though it only covers a relatively narrow aspect of morality - that of financial generosity.

My guess would be that non-religious people respond based mostly on personal feelings of compassion, while religious people are more likely to consider whether the recipient is deserving based on their perceived moral qualities. That is, if someone is unfortunate, what did they do to deserve it? While the non-religious assume that life is random, so maybe less likely to think that people's misfortune is based on personal failings.
bestdaywelived 2nd-May-2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
From my experience with Christians, they give to their churches and consider that giving, or they give to church-sanctioned charities and pat themselves on the back for it.

I am an atheist, and I give to charities because I think you are a bad person if you don't. I'm also more likely, as an atheist, to donate my time to making the world a better place without attaching strings to it. The only charities I refuse to give any money or time to are those that are Christian-based, because I find proselytizing to be immoral and I don't support it.
nicosian 2nd-May-2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
I would presume that for some religiously inclined folks the motivation/deciding factor for charity recipients is HIGHLY dependent on their judgement of worthy or not. I can't say its absolute, there's obviously people who are charitable and religious, but for a lot, in my experience, they tend to hold that charity as a carrot on a stick, and make people prove their worth, as almost a control thing. There's definitely a morality chain yank in some religious based charity thinking.

I'm atheist. I give without hestitation to secular/non relig charities, to panhandlers. To me, the choice to donate doesn't entitle me to expect someone to listen to me proselytize or preache or judge first before recieving charity, ( which is why I tend to avoid relig, orgs. Bad experiences with how they roll)

( and I will confess some of the most loudly religious I know were the perpetrators of some of the most cruellest moments of utter lack of compassion I've ever witnessed, things I can't even fathom inflicting on someone else. So I admit. I'm BIASED.)
(no subject) - Anonymous
bestdaywelived 2nd-May-2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
I once had a conversation with a woman who claimed that only Christians do charity work through their churches, and it's because Jesus makes you a better person. I pointed out that I spent over 150 hours that semester at a domestic violence program, and she said that I wasn't doing it for charity, but for selfish purposes, since I wasn't a Christian.

I kind of hope that she spontaneously combusts.
akashasheiress 2nd-May-2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering if the whole faith-not-works doctrine might figure into this for many devout protestants? That is, as long as you're ''saved'' you don't have to do charitable stuff because faith is everything?

Edited at 2012-05-02 08:41 pm (UTC)
bestdaywelived 2nd-May-2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
I'm sure that it does. I remember growing up evangelical and being taught that works didn't matter.
lilyginny27 2nd-May-2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
bex 2nd-May-2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
Man, I hate this "atheists are better than theists"/"theists are better than atheists" jockeying. If we could all stop being concerned about who's "better" than everyone else for just a few moments, perhaps we could get on with something important for once. People are just PEOPLE. Some religious people are awesome; some are assholes. Some atheists are awesome; some are assholes. There is no fucking mystery here.
georgeslymaniv 2nd-May-2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
Well, they're not exactly saying theists are assholes here. They are saying that there is a marked difference in motivation in financial giving between religious and nonreligious people. It's worth asking why these psychological differences exist.
(no subject) - Anonymous
perthro 2nd-May-2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Smart idea. Around here, around 1/4th of the documented homeless population have substance abuse issues; therefore, giving them money only fuels their downward spiral. I prefer handing out food. It also helps that I tend to walk to the store when I have the energy, so I can sometimes offer shelf-stable options, or occasionally frozen dinners that can be cooked at gas stations. Even the homeless have allergies and health problems, so it helps them to be able to choose something they can eat/like eating. Protein bars, hardier fruit (think bananas, pears, or oranges vs. strawberries or grapes), raisins, things like that.
perthro 2nd-May-2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
If a person is poor, I do not believe that a mystical person will deliver them bread via birds or angels. I do not believe there is any intrinsic merit or virtue to lacking money and enduring poverty; it can be a good life lesson, yes, but poverty in itself is grueling. There is no virtue to starvation, no consolation for desperation. If a person is in pain, I will not assume that praying to an invisible creature/person will deliver them. The only person who can help is us, if we choose to, and if we believe there is merit to the action.

We are all we have.

There is no other help coming. We ARE the help.

It is our duty to use our various privileges to help those who do not have those privileges, not because we should make ourselves 'feel better', or to mark ourselves as 'good people', but because that is what SHOULD be done. Just as you should clean your bathroom regularly, you should help where you can and do the least harm possible. There is no 'points' system where you rack up tallies in the Good or Bad categories, at the end of your run to be used to decide what dimension you are magically transported to. There is no scorekeeper. It is what it is.

Therefore, there is no incentive for me to avoid bad behaviour, or to promote 'good' behavior, whatever society has deemed that to be. I simply think we have enough trouble in this world, and everything would function much more smoothly if we thought about what we did more often, and how it affects others. I don't know how that makes me more moral than anyone else, and I don't see how it would make any individual atheist more generous or better than any other. But I can see how a similar philosophy might encourage more in the way of actions towards each other, vs. intention to act. A few hours of prayer vs. a few hours of actual volunteer hours, if you will.
ladypolitik 2nd-May-2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's not that kind of...'competition', though.

Edited at 2012-05-02 10:46 pm (UTC)
baked_goldfish 3rd-May-2012 12:29 am (UTC)
Tell that to all the Christians in America who are hell-bent on "proving" how horribly selfish and unkind atheists are. It's an incredibly mainstream view here.
kitchen_poet 3rd-May-2012 05:39 am (UTC)
This whole premise makes me uneasy, but I live in a state where the vast majority of people are association with a certain religion, and I have never seen a population so opposed to charity and social welfare programs in my life. There is a widespread belief that your church should and will help you with food, rent money, etc., so there is no need for the state to fund social programs, and if you happen to be an atheist with no church, you apparently don't deserve any help.

There is also an obsession with "self-reliance," despite the huge role the church plays in the community.
mysid 4th-May-2012 01:57 am (UTC)
Let me guess--you live in Utah?
mentalguru 3rd-May-2012 09:22 am (UTC)
I'm an atheist, and as others have stated, if you don't believe that there is a deity watching over people you may indeed feel more obligated to help your fellow human being in some way. I mean there is no over whelming force meaning that they'll be okay eventually, or in an after life.

This is the only life we and they have, their only chance to be happy, or for us to leave our mark in either a positive or negative way, and most would want to have a positive effect.

I think in the end the idea of a deity setting things right can be a comforting thought (even if when I believed I was less than comforted by the idea of a god personally), but the thing is even christians- those in power have to acknowledge that at least in THIS life bad things happen to good people, there are things which happen which no person deserves to go through and saying that things will work out after they die if they believe is hardly going to solve the problems they have now.

As in Good Omens:

"Anyway, if you stopped tellin' people it's all sorted out after they're dead, they might try sorting it all out while they're alive."

All the same there are probably other factors to take into account rather than just religiosity in studies like this. I mean I would be interesting in seeing a liberal/conservative divide. I mean you are more likely to pick a random christian, find out they're conservative then say with atheists.

I mean it's kind of hard to make sweeping statements (though of course some people love to make those about atheists or those in different religious groups they don't belong too!), but christianity alone is pretty diverse before even considering other religions. I mean I think my parents church isn't that bad? I don't think it's made of money but it's got a reasonably sized congregation and builds schools and hospitals in Uganda last I heard as well as donating to homeless charities in Belfast I believe (through a church there). And the sister church has connections with the Muslim community in Belfast too. Churches can have that shit organised I'll tell you that much. Such organisation can indeed used for good (as well as not so good) things.

But my Aunt is currently investing energy to stopping gay marriage in her church. (Ugh, there goes my ability to come out to extended family members- I think they think I'm a straight ally... or perhaps they think I'm possibly gay because the hints about getting a boyfriend are NOT SUBTLE.). This energy devoted to bigotry is not only wrong in that sense but also spends valuable energy you could actually be doing GOOD things. Things which are actually worth while and help rather than hurt vulnerable people.

If that makes sense at all. I mean it may depend where they took the last study of the 200+ students. (Was it at the same university? More than one university?) Parts of the United States might also be more generous than others. Are red states or blue states better at giving?

I think the former study makes sense- atheists don't believe in the power of prayer or that that helps. So guilt and compassion makes action more likely. Prayer for those who believe in it, is another way they feel they perhaps can help. And it's pretty easy.

Of course you could pray AND help. But yeah.

In the end both atheists and religious people can be good people or utter dicks.

People can also give for different reasons- in the religious sense it could be selfish (god will reward me in heaven!) or through true compassion (this person simply needs help/ god has blessed me with good fortune, and it would be wrong not to share).

In the end as stated this study could be important is slamming myths- that being religious means your actions become inherently better, or that atheists are awful selfish people who worship themselves.
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