We live in a time where good is bad and bad is good. Toxic waste is good for you and corporations that bilk the taxpayers for billions of dollars continue living off the public teat while organizations that fight for a living wage and to register poor people to vote are marginalized.
Interesting times we live in...
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-=[ Religion and Altruism ]=-
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
-- Luke 6:38 (New International Version)
The following will not win me many friends... LOL!
In a society that can only think of morality in religious terms, it would be easy to assume that there’s a strong connection between religion and good. For example, many Christians, often with tears in their eyes, demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. Of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom?
“Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon?
The sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity, like most spiritual disciplines, contain potent reminders to be compassionate and charitable.
These admonitions, however, have not been sufficient to prevent a wide range of horrors under the justification of one religion or another. From the Hebrews, whose jealous God compelled them to destroy innocent men, women and children, to the barbaric Christian crusaders, to contemporary fanatics killing in Allah’s or Jesus’ name. Less known, but just as disturbing are the plethora of studies demonstrating that churchgoers are more intolerant of ethnic minorities than non-churchgoers.
When we turn to the topic of altruism, we discover that there is almost no connection between religious affiliation and caring or helping behavior. This conclusion has emerged with remarkable consistency from many types of research spanning many years. One study of about 2,000 Episcopalians in the 1950s showed no discernible relationship between church involvement and charitable acts. In another questionnaire-based study of altruism involving several hundred male college students in 1960, there was only a slight correlation between altruism and a belief in God, and none at all between altruism and of religious participation. In a random study of adults in 1965, the non-religious were as frequently rated as being a good Samaritan, possessing love and compassion for their fellow human being, as well as being humble, as the most devout and religious of the group that was studied.
Two experiments with undergraduates during the 1970s found essentially the same findings: In one, students who believed in the Bible’s accuracy were no more likely than others to come to the aid of someone in the next room who seemed to have fallen off a ladder. In the other study, students were assessed as being “Jesus People” (born again Christians), conventionally religious, nonreligious, or atheist. There was no statistical difference among these groups in their willingness to volunteer time with developmentally delayed children or to resist the temptation to cheat on a test (the only group in which the majority did not cheat: the atheists).
In 1984, a researcher who surveyed more than 700 people from different neighborhoods in a medium-sized city expected to find that religious people were especially sociable, helpful to their neighbors, and likely to participate in neighborhood organizations. Instead, she reported, religious involvement was unrelated to these activities. Finally, a study of people who risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis found that “rescuers did not differ significantly from bystanders or all non-rescuers with respect to their religious identification, religious education, and their own religiosity or that of their parents.”
It seems, then, that religious affiliation by itself has nothing to do with an evolved level of moral reasoning or altruism.