Are We Really Less Caring & Compassionate?



Science Daily posted this just the other day:

Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than Are Non-Believers

While my response is neither based upon recent research nor scientific data, I wonder if this only paints the #27 in a Paint-By-Number portrait, leaving out all the primary colors and majority of larger spaces for the whole picture to be seen?

I wonder if this group did any research at all on how the “highly religious” do show their compassion? The only example they give here is an emotive response from a video of a few hurting people and a limit of $10 to give. While a hungry person might think $10 is sufficient for a couple of dollar-menu-meals at McDonalds, what is it doing in the long run? It treats a symptom with a well-worn bandaid. It does not reform and develop. If this is the measure of compassion, then our government is one of the most compassionate organizations ever established, given it’s current welfare budget. Why should the church even bother trying to compete with the billions spent by our federal government? We can’t.

I’m also left wondering, how lingering is the emotive response to this person? How quickly are they forgotten? Does the emotion carry into transformed character–real life change–or is it just a behavioral modification tool, one that only changes the outward behavior, but nothing of the heart? The long-term compassion shown to others isn’t measured out in this study and I think that’s where the church–yes, I’m shifting the gears here from the “highly religious” (which means very little to me) to the church–outshines non-believers.

Here’s an example: for the past six years the church (I’m using the term broadly; think classical Christianity and church here) in Rochester, MN has banded together every summer (and more recently over a couple of Christmas breaks) to help our community. This will be year #7 of CareFest. Last year was probably one of the greatest, in terms of numbers involved, work accomplished and having our “light shine” out to the broader communities around us. Following severe flooding of the Zumbro River, several communities were devastated. The federal government simply couldn’t handle it well. So, in steps the church, SHOWING CARING COMPASSION: rebuilding houses and buildings, cleaning up, hauling away, painting and more. And it lasted far longer than the one day’s efforts. In fact, it is still ongoing and many government agencies are now coming to the church…yes, you read that correctly–coming to the church and asking for their help, input and prayers.

Sure, we could have watched the news reports and gotten all weepy-eyed over the devastation. Sure, we could have started collecting offerings and contributions during our services and just sent in a check (this did happen by the way; it’s how CareFest covers some of its expenses). And most certainly, we could all have felt a little better ABOUT OURSELVES (and that seemed to be the point of the research findings–feeling better about yourself for doing a good deed, rather than truly helping change a life, not just giving $10).

But that is not the point of CareFest. The point is to let our “light shine before others, so that they will give glory to our Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16, ESV) We want our compassion to last, to make a lasting difference and impact, not just appease our guilty consciences. This is true compassion. This is truly “loving one another.” If Science Daily wants to study that, they could come to Rochester this June 16 and see what takes place when the love of Jesus Christ is shown to others.

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  • http://foxfier.wordpress.com/ Foxfier

     In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two brief videos, a neutral video or a heartrending one, which showed portraits of children afflicted by poverty. Next, they were each given 10 “lab dollars” and directed to give any amount of that money to a stranger. The least religious participants appeared to be motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger. 
    So, those who (fit X group they want to slam) were more likely to do things that cost them nothing but made them feel good when their emotions had been raised by a video designed to manipulate their emotions, even when the zero-cost action would not make much of  a difference and might even make things worse in the long run?

    Hey, that’s the format it would be if the sample had gone the other way. 

    Plus, isn’t 101 people a rather small sample– and how were they chosen, who rated how religious they were and by what measure, etc.

    Then there’s the baseline misunderstanding of the notion of loving one’s neighbor… your example of doing things that actually help in the long run is far more loving than using someone else’s money (lab bucks) to get a momentary burst of self-esteem. 

  • ChrisB

    “For highly religious people, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were…” 

    Why is that a bad thing? Non-religious people are generous when they feel bad for someone. Religious people are generous because it’s right. 

  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    Better we look at history than experiments to determine who is compassionate and generous. In light of history it is obvious that people of faith out-trump atheists/agnostics in those areas most of the time.