I have long found it interesting that religion attests so strongly to being compassionate, but needs a supernatural overseer to motivate its followers to do so. The more sensical path to generosity seems to be raw compassion and concern for one’s fellow human creatures, independent of the impression one will make on a supernatural god. Not only does this seem more practical, but also more honorable and truthful.
So I was excited to find a study in which researchers at UC Berkeley conducted a series of experiments over a period of several years, and found that unreligious people tend to derive their compassion more from actual emotion and concern for someone who is suffering than do religious people, whose generosity is rooted more in “doctrine, communal identity, or reputational concerns.”
In other words, nonreligious people tend to adhere to the suffering of others based on the very simple emotion of compassion and the concept of altruism. In contrast, the religious tend to to help their brothers and sisters more to impress the overlooking father figure that hovers invisibly in Heaven.
It’s up to you to decide which is the more dignified, honorable source of generosity, but to me, the answer is clear. Why must our kindness and unselfishness be polluted with doctrine that demands obedience to an omnipotent dictator? It doesn’t. And while it is true that religion has inspired many good deeds, imagine if we stripped those deeds of the name of God and left them to stand on their own. Perhaps – no, not perhaps – undoubtedly, a staggering amount of violence would have been prevented.
Christopher Hitchens said, “Either our convictions are enough in themselves, or they are not.” No supernatural attachment to these convictions is needed. And as this study from UC Berkeley reveals, true compassion is in fact more prevalent when we are free to connect with our fellow human beings, independent of the burden of pleasing an onlooking Big Brother.