Study Claims People of Faith Are Stingy


Hardly a week passes, it seems, without yet another “scientific” study disparaging people of faith.

This week’s study, ginned up by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, dubiously concludes that the “highly religious” are less compassionate toward the needful than non-believers.

Published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the study defines “compassion” as an emotion felt when people see the sufferings of others which then motivates them to help, often at personal risk or cost.

The study’s lead author, Laura Saslow, says she was inspired by an atheist friend who told her he donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching a video of a woman being rescued from the rubble.

“I was interested to find,” she said, “that this experience – an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers – was replicated in three large, systematic studies.”

Well, I have no doubt there are some non-believers, like Saslow’s atheist boy pal, who are so moved with compassion after watching videos of victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters, that they donate to recovery efforts.

But it is absurd for Saslow to suggest that people of faith, particularly the highly religious, are not similarly moved, if not more so.

To make such a claim, the Cal Berkeley researchers relied on three highly-questionable analyses.

In the first, they looked at data from a 2004 national survey of roughly 1,300 adults. They determined that those who agreed with such statements as “when I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective of them” were more inclined to show generosity.

And extrapolating from the survey results, they figured that non-believers were likelier to be charitable in such ways as giving money or food to a homeless person than people of faith.

In the second analysis, 101 adults watched one of two videos. One was neutral. The other was heartrending, showing portraits of impoverished children. Next, the participants were each given a hypothetical $10 and directed to give any of it to a stranger.

Wouldn’t you know it? The least religious gave the most of their money.

The third of the “systematic” analyses on which Saslow’s based her putative scientific findings involved more than 200 college students who were asked to report how compassionate they felt at the moment. Then they played a game in which they were given hypothetical money to share – or not – with a stranger.

In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, which had since doubled in amount. They were free to reward them by giving back some of the money.

Once again, those who were deemed least-religious proved most generous.

Of course, there is a much better way than abstract surveys or videos or games to get a true-to-life measure of how compassionate the faith community is toward the needful – just examine the list of America’s largest charities.

Indeed, of the ten largest charities serving the least among us – the poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless – nine of those were founded by people of faith. That includes such well-known charities as United Way, the American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries and Habitat for Humanity.

As to Haiti relief, which prompted Saslow to concoct her highly suspect study, faith-based charities made up three-quarters of the list of those receiving top ratings by CharityWatch, the respected watchdog organization, for their work on the ground in the earthquake-ravaged island nation to ease the suffering of its people .

This entry was published on May 2, 2012 at 12:56 PM. It’s filed under Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Study Claims People of Faith Are Stingy

  1. Don’t forget, if your group is csnhoiog to participate in The Mercy House challenge, comment today and let us know what you all are planning!!! Can’t wait to read what you have come up with!!!! Looking so forward to joining you and helping to make a difference in the lives of those girls! To God be the GLORY!Love God Greatly!-Angela

  2. Our group has come of with the suggestion that since a few of us are quite crtfay we could maybe make baby blankets or even larger blankets, if this was at all helpful to them. We are also keen to buy the t-shirts, although from what we can see on the Etsy shop, they do not ship to the UK, where 5 of us in the group are living. One of our US members has offered to post them on to us once we work out the logistics.We are really excited to be able to help out in any way we can!

  3. Bryan on said:

    Religious people will cite lots of reasons for giving with compassion being one of them. In contrast, secular don’t have so many reasons so “compassion” will naturally be listed higher. Another (better) way to read this, is that religious people are more likely to give even if they are not emotionally connected to the receiver. That is quite different from what the liberal media is trying to spin this as.

    • Hi I know I am late but anyway. Our group was thkiinng about what to do but did not come up with anything as a whole group. It is a little bit difficult though doing something from Germany also, most of our group have ongoing donations already. So I decided that I will try to improve the awareness here in Germany for the Mercy House. I fell in love with this project and will try to support it from here. It sure is a project that is worth to be supported. Three girls of our group will help me doing this. We are trying to get a picture of ours together we don’t live close, so there is not really a chance to meet up. Katja

  4. Robert Craine on said:

    You are wrong!

    • About what, pray tell?

    • Hey Angela! My group is a facebook group of hcoseohoml moms from all over the USA. We have decided to take on the winter challenge as well! We are going to help out with their March drive of collecting baby items. We will be shipping baby items to them during the month of March!For our Week 5 challenge we are helping on of our own in our group. I am so excited to announce it to her this morning! We have a mom in our group that has 9 children, several with disabilities, and an infant who just had surgery. They have to drive several hours back and forth to the children’s hospital that is helping their children and of course it is very draining of finances. We are sending her gift cards and cards of encouragement to hopefully give her a boost and help lift her spirit during this time!We are loving our group and we are loving the James study!!!Thanks!Kellie

    • Our group has decided to put totheegr a box of baby stuff for the Mercy House. We are also talking about other ways we can help as a group both with the Mercy House and locally in our area. It has been so great to brain storm ways to put our faith into action. Do and not just say!!

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