Punitive tendencies

The Guardian reports on A New Study that finds that children from godbothering families are less altruistic than children from non-godbothering families.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

I can’t say that that surprises me. I don’t think religion necessarily makes people less altruistic, or that atheism necessarily does the opposite. But I do think there are aspects of religion that pull in that direction, in particular, the focus on a god as opposed to humans (and other animals). Obedience to a god just is not the same thing as concern for humans.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

Sure. That’s the obedience to god thing. The god is by its nature a tyrant – a being vastly more powerful than we are, demanding that we obey it – so it’s going to encourage a tyrant-based morality. Obey the tyrant, and judge harshly anyone who doesn’t.

The report was “a welcome antidote to the presumption that religion is a prerequisite of morality”, said Keith Porteus Wood of the UK National Secular Society.

“It would be interesting to see further research in this area, but we hope this goes some way to undoing the idea that religious ethics are innately superior to the secular outlook. We suspect that people of all faiths and none share similar ethical principles in their day to day lives, albeit may express them differently depending on their worldview.”

Well said; not triumphalist. It’s always a mistake to be triumphalist about one New Study.

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