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.