Faith, Hope & Charity

In Christianity & Atheism on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , ,

Arthur Brooks has undertaken significant research finding that atheists are decidedly less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts. Indeed, his research discloses that people of faith even give more money to wholly secular charities than their non-believing brethren, by any measure.  In Gross National Happiness, Brooks notes that atheists donate less blood and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street.  Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable, referencing a 2004 study finding that twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures. In a review published in Science, psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff discuss research on the connection between faith and morality. In one of their own studies, they primed half the participants with a spirituality-themed word jumble (including the words divine and God) and gave the other half the same task with nonspiritual words. Then, they gave the participants $10 each and told them that they could either keep it or share their cash reward with another (anonymous) subject. Ultimately, the spiritual-jumble group parted with more than twice as much money as the control.


One Response to “Faith, Hope & Charity”

  1. A summary of atheist’s state can be found in a survey by Zuckerman which also contains what you quote:

    On altruism Zuckerman writes:

    “What about altruism? Although studies report that secular Americans donate less of their income to charitable causes than the religious (Regnerus et al. 1998), it should be noted that it is the most secular democracies on earth – such as Scandinavia – that donate
    the most money and supportive aid, per capita, to poorer nations (Center for Global Development, 2008). Furthermore, secular people are much more likely than religious people to vote for candidates and programs that redistribute wealth from the richer segments
    of society to the poorer segments through progressive taxation. Finally, Oliner and Oliner (1988) and Varese and Yaish (2000), in their studies of heroic altruism during the Holocaust, found that the more secular people were, the more likely they were to rescue
    and help persecuted Jews.”

    I’m weary about Brooks’ book because charities through foundations are not covered. Yet the two largest privately funded recent foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and Warren Buffet’s foundation are both by nonbelievers.

    Brooks is a partisan. I would have to read his book in detail if he manages to be impartial regardless.

    I don’t have time to do a detailed analysis of Brooks’ book but I will note that neither Gates nor Buffet are mentioned in the book.

    Philosopher Peter Singer, another atheist, is one of the strongest of a percentile donation model. But he wouldn’t advocate non-discriminant donations. This is what Norenzyan & Shariff studied.

    What bothers me about Brook’s book is that it does not mention the well known findings about secular European country’s charitable giving patterns to make its case.

    But it will be tricky to have this argument because it appears that Brooks at once praises charitable giving and is deeply critical of doing the same through taxes. Again I need to do a more detailed reading than I had time for.

    In that view atheists are in a disadvantage. They are more likely to be happy about systematically supporting charitable causes through taxation.

    While we are on about findings about atheists. We should also consider how atheists are negatively perceived, against their actual behavior:

    On altriusm and saving jews percecuted in the Holocaust consider this recent study:

    Priming Christian Religious Concepts Increases Racial Prejudice. M. K. Johnson, W. C. Rowatt, and J. LaBouff (2010) Social Psychological and Personality Science 1, 119-126.


    Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism. D. L. Hall, D. C. Matz, and W. Wood (2010) Personality and Social Psychology Review 14, 126-139

    Support of out-group hostility and martyrdom does not correlate with praying frequency, but does correlate positively with church attendance:

    Religion and Support for Suicide Attacks. J. Ginges, I. Hansen, and A. Norenzayan (2009) Psychological Science 20, 224-230

    As for negative stereotyping, how often do we hear about studies that discuss atheists’ ranking poorly. And how often do we hear of these other studies? Why did you discuss one, but not the others?

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