compassionReligious people might not be the paragon of virtue and morality that some think they are, according to a recent study. The study suggests they are just as likely to behave badly as secular people. Whether they like it or not, they essentially stand on equal footing with the non-religious with regard to performing deeds which benefit others in their community. The findings are perhaps no surprise for secularists who have long avowed that religion is not necessary for one to behave in a morally upright way. But if religious people are just as ill-behaved as secular people, what is the purpose of religion, if any, and what is our role as Universal Life Church ministers?

Scientists Attempt to Measure Morality

Psychologist Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Cologne led a team of researchers to explore the link between religion and moral actions using a device that has proved an effective tool in documenting social attitudes—the smartphone. Dr. Hofmann and his team recruited 1,252 men and women age 18 to 68 years old from the United States and Canada, who completed a survey in which they described their degree of religiosity, ranging from “not at all” to “very much”. In addition to recording degree of religiosity, the survey also looked at where participants lay on the political spectrum, from “very liberal” to “very conservative”. Afterward, participants received a text message survey five times a day in which they described any moral and immoral acts they had committed, witnessed, been subject to, or heard about within the past hour. Participants described each act and how it made them feel.

Religious people reported experiencing approximately the same number of moral acts as non-religious people did; meanwhile, liberal and conservative participants also reported experiencing a similar number of moral acts. In fact, both religious and non-religious people showed a similar degree of self-aggrandizement: both groups reported committing good deeds more than bad ones, but reported observing bad deeds committed by others more often than good ones. Interestingly, members of both groups were likelier to do good deeds for others if they themselves were the beneficiary of a good deed from another.

But what differences showed up in the study? The chief difference reflected how moral acts made participants feel. Religious people were more likely to report feeling pride over committing good deeds, gratefulness over benefiting from good deeds, and revulsion and guilt for committing bad ones. Additionally, liberals expressed greater interest in good deeds related to honesty and fairness, whereas conservatives cared more about deeds pertaining to loyalty and sanctity.

Taking the Wind Out of the Sails

angel and devilDo these findings obviate the purpose of religion as an age-old tool for encouraging altruism and preserving social welfare, and, if so, do we really need religion? Many of the faithful will argue that religion has taught humans to care for the sick, needy, and vulnerable since time immemorial, and has enshrined a code of conduct which prevents civilization from descending into chaos. Many secular humanists, however, will argue the opposite: some of the world’s most violent wars, its most heinous crimes against humanity, and its most oppressive institutions of social control, are the result of harmful, superstitious religious thinking. Why on earth, then, should we view religion as some sort of panacea, and why should it surprise us that religious people behave just as poorly as secular people?

It also behooves us to consider what these findings entail for us as Universal Life Church ministers. Should we breathe a sigh of relief, view such research as proof that religion isn’t so bad after all, and keep doing what we are doing? Or should we abandon religion for a secular approach to morality and social welfare, and, if so, will we still be able to call ourselves ministers? Do we need religion to keep us on our toes, or can we be “good without God”?


The Huffington Post


  1. Lewis says:

    “Religious people might not be the paragon of virtue and morality that some think they are, according to a recent study.”

    It’s true that some tout their religious-ness as something that makes them more virtuous or moral, but this is a fault within the person, not the belief system.

    “The study suggests they are just as likely to behave badly as secular people.”

    I would agree. There is no difference, morally speaking, between a Christian and a non-christian. Both are equally sinful, according to the Christian worldview.

    The Bible says “there is no one who is righteous, not even one,” “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10;22).

    The difference is that a Christian is or should be more aware of their shortcomings, and that they would define certain things as being sinful that other people would not.

    The study cited brings up some interesting things, but it only surveyed 1,252 people in the US and Canada who had smartphones. People who have smartphones are more likely to have disposable income and be in a higher social class. People who didn’t have smartphones, like poor or low-income people could not participate; certainly their views and habits concerning morality are important. The findings on these 1,252 people are not indicative of the morality of the US, much less all of humanity.

    I wonder if the researches would get similar results if they expanded the study to include people from different countries, cultures, and social classes.

  2. Ron Williams says:

    Rightly said in the blog about the religious people, there are not much diffrences between religious and seculiarist people both does the same activities but from thre tag names they pretend what they are and what they do.

  3. Dave L says:

    Everyone slips now and then – we are all human, not god. With that being said, if one goes out with intent to harm others there are some serious internal issues that need to be addressed. One cannot go to confssion on Sunday and begin bad behavior on Monday only to have it absolved the next weekend. As ULC Ministers we must recognize that we are fallible but make every attempt to “do that which is right”. I would like to see more ULC Ministers out there doing good works like extablishing feeding centers for the hungry, shelters from the homeless etc. Jesus was a man of action doing good acts – and that’s what we should follow if we are called to ministry. Do you really want to be thought of as an “online minister” ordained only to perform your sisters wedding? You are a REAL minister and you sould act like it. One other thing I want to address is NO ULC minister is EVER ordained “online”. You can apply online or by mail. The ordinations are done several times a week at HQ.

    Rev. Dave

  4. Stella says:

    I can only speak for myself in this matter. I do not own an iPod and have never taken a survey as the one mentioned above. However, believing in a Superior Being means I try to live up to a higher standard of living. It doesn’t mean I am perfect and will always act the way I should in any given situation where I must choose what’s best for all concerned. It means I will try to choose good over anything destructive I may face in my lifetime. My God is good and demands his followers to do good deeds. And, as long as I am focused on my God then I will be more inclined to be aware of my behavior and more likely to choose what is best in any given circumstance. The odds are that with this attitude I will most likely remain a good person. As for those who do not have a measurement to go by they will likely not give a hoot whether they are making the better choice or not. (Hope this makes sense, I don’t always express myself well.)
    p.s. I do not consider myself to be religious in the sense that I follow rituals, etc. But, I suppose I am since I believe in a Higher Power.

  5. Pastor Frank A. Villari says:

    Another study skewed to a particular point of view. This must have been the product of secular thinking.

    “The findings are perhaps no surprise for secularists who have long avowed that religion is not necessary for one to behave in a morally upright way.” Of course it is of no surprise, but if we are just as capable of being as immoral as seculars, what does that say about seculars? I think I will continue to have faith that there is something better than what the secular community would have us believe.

    1. joseph says:

      If the two are equal in their morality, then your question about “what does that say about seculars” doesn’t make much sense. For any two things with equal value, you can replace one in the sentence with the other and we could just as easily ask “If seculars are just as capable of being immoral as religious people, what does that say about religious people?”

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