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Correlation between Religion and Altruism

Updated July 21, 2021
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Correlation between Religion and Altruism essay

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Religion has the power to influence one’s actions. Some people believe that altruism is influenced by religion because of the emphasis on giving, while others believe that non religious people are more altruistic because they have more flexible beliefs. Although religion does not define one’s altruistic acts, one who practices religion is taught to be more altruistic.

Religion has been around for almost 5000 years. According to Source A, the author believes that the reason religion has survived for so long is that “it reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray”. The author believes that once someone has invested in religion, altruism becomes like second nature, and we begin to act more selfless without even noticing it. When speaking about religion the author concludes his piece by writing “The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God” (Source A). According to this source, we must not lose our religious touch, because we would then lose our altruistic ideals.

Popular religions emphasize the importance of altruism. In Source C depicts the painting Belisarius Begging for Alms. The painting shows a woman donating to a man and his daughter and the guard behind the woman seems shocked by her actions. The guard is shocked at how a woman would donate to someone she doesn’t even know. Alms and giving in any way are highly encouraged religious ideals, which explains why many people are so selfless once they have invested in religion.

Although religion may encourage altruism, it is not be the only way to become selfless. Source C begins by saying “Religion and its promotion of empathy get undue credit for our unselfish acts. Instead, it’s our less-than-virtuous psychological perception that a moral authority is watching us that promotes altruism.” The author believes that religion is given to much credit for altruistic acts, and believes that one can be just as altruistic with religion.

Contrary to popular belief, a study conducted in source D by Current Biology sheds light on the truth of religious children. The study gathered children with different religions and tested how many stickers they would share with others. In figure 1 of source D, we can see how “altruism is negatively influenced by the Religiosity of Children”. The graph shows that the non-religious children are more altruistic than the religious children who participated in the experiment, which contradicts popular ideas relating religion and altruism.

The author of Source F has very similar ideas to that of source D but brings up one very important detail,“new research conducted in six countries around the world suggests that a religious upbringing may actually yield children who are less altruistic.” This author agrees with the fact the religious children are less altruistic but elaborates on the idea that this experiment was an inaccurate assessment. The author writes “There are difficulties in devising experiments to look for religion’s effect on selflessness. Others would argue that only as adults do we begin to use a mature moral compass, and this stage is more important.” I agree with this author because she gives an opinion of both sides of the situation and shed light to the fact that I would be very hard to get an accurate test/experiment of one’s altruism based on religion.

In source B the author strongly believes that there is no way to really test how religion encourages altruism. Source B discusses previous studies and criticizes them- “They failed to appropriately consider variation in altruistic behavior across the six countries tested. As a result, a difference in altruistic behavior that should have been attributed to the country was instead attributed to religious affiliation”. The author also believes that the test was unsuccessful and was not executed correctly.

For these reasons, it is hard to believe that those who are religious are less altruistic, and with no full proof evidence, this argument could go both ways. The author writes about “the puzzle of how religiosity and altruistic behavior are related is by no means solved” (Source B). The author knows that evidence is not full proof and comes up with one final statement very similar to the way I think about altruism.

The author writes “ ‘It’s a big and complicated literature. My current conclusion is that religion does make people more generous, but it’s by no means the only thing, or the best one. So, religion can and is used to motivate kids and adults to be kinder and more prosocial. But if you’re not religious, there are plenty of other effective motivators”. I believe that this author has found the solution or balance between the argument this statement successfully argues both sides and is very similar to the way I thought of addressing this question.

After analyzing these six sources I have come to the conclusion that religious people are the most altruistic, but someone who isn’t religious can also be altruistic, but will never truly become selfless. I have come to this conclusion from reading the evidence of experiments and different viewpoints of different authors, considering that there is no real way to test the correlation between religion and altruism, it is safe to say religious people are meant to be altruistic because they are taught such ideals, and if they are truly invested they should act upon those ideas and become more altruistic than someone without religious ideals.

Works Cited

  1. Image-Altruism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism.
  2. Jean Decety, Jason M. Cowell, Kang Lee, Randa Mahasneh, Susan Malcolm-Smith, Bilge Selcuk, Xinyue Zhou. “The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World.” Current Biology .
  3. Lloyd, Robin. “Religion Not the Only Path to Altruism.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 27 Oct. 2008, www.nbcnews.com/id/27406062/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/religion-not-only-path-altruism/#.W-EcPZNKjIU.
  4. Lombrozo, Tania. “Does Religion Matter In Determining Altruism?” NPR, NPR, 15 Aug. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/15/490031512/does-religion-matter-in-determining-altruism.
  5. Sacks, Jonathan. “The Moral Animal.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Dec. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/opinion/the-moral-animal.html.
  6. Turner, Victoria Sayo. “Children with a Religious Upbringing Show Less Altruism.” Scientific American, 9 Feb. 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/children-with-a-religious-upbringing-show-less-altruism/.
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