Godless kids more generous & tolerant
A new American study indicates that young children brought up in faith-free environments are more likely to be generous and tolerant than those who grow up in religious households.
Published in the Current Biology journal, The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World‘s findings are in line with previous research among adults which showed that the more religious a person was the more intolerant they were.
Dr Jean Decety at the University of Chicago is quoted here as saying said:
Some past research had demonstrated that religious people aren’t more likely to do good than their non-religious counterparts. Our study goes beyond that by showing that religious people are less generous, and not only adults but children too.
Decety his colleagues asked more than 1,100 children between the ages of five and 12 from the US, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa, and China to play a game.
In it they were asked to make decisions about how many stickers to share with an anonymous person from the same school and a similar ethnic group.
Most of the children came from households that identified as Christian, Muslim, or not religious.
Agnostic and atheist kids were more likely to share than children whose parents were religious, but children who believe in God were more likely to be vengeful and back harsher punishments for those who hurt others.
It was suggested this was because religious children feel as they are going to heaven they are less concerned about the consequences of being mean.
The study also included smaller numbers of children from Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and agnostic homes.
The results might be explained in part by “moral licensing”, a phenomenon in which doing something “good”, in this case practising a religion, can leave people less concerned about the consequences of immoral behaviour.
A common-sense notion is that religiosity has a positive association with self-control and moral behaviours. This view is unfortunately so deeply embedded that individuals who are not religious can be considered morally suspect.
In the United States, for instance, non-religious individuals have little chance to be elected to a high political office, and those who identify as agnostic and atheist are considered to be less trustworthy and more likely to be amoral or even immoral.
Thus, it is generally admitted that religion shapes people’s moral judgments and pro-social behaviour, but the relation between religiosity and morality is actually a contentious one, and not always positive.
Decety will now expand his research to include children of ages four to eight in 14 countries – Canada, China, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Jordan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Norway, and Mexico.