Archive

Religion & morality | TribLIVE.com
News

Religion & morality

Get this: Religious and nonreligious people are equally prone to immoral acts.

So finds a new study by Saint Peter’s University, which I read about in Science magazine.

Daniel Wisneski and Wilhelm Hofmann, the study’s lead authors, recruited 1,252 adults between ages 18 and 68 using Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter and other outlets. Participants downloaded an app to their smartphones that allowed researchers to text them five times a day. The participants then reported any moral or immoral acts — things they did themselves, witnessed or heard about — and rated how intensely they felt about those acts on a scale of 0 to 5.

Participants filed 13,240 reports, describing everything from arranging adulterous encounters (immoral) to giving a homeless man a sandwich (moral). Researchers spent weeks reviewing the comments and identified six moral principles: care for others, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Researchers also found that the participants’ judgment reflected two other moral behaviors: honesty and self-discipline.

“They found that conservatives were more likely than liberals to report acts involving sanctity and respect for authority, and liberals were more likely than conservatives to talk about fairness,” according to Science.

But their finding on religion — that people who identified themselves as religious were just as moral or immoral as nonreligious people — most grabbed my attention.

Because I don’t buy it.

Look, it is very true that nonreligious people can be very principled and that regular churchgoers can be crooks in their business dealings.

But what is different about religious people is they have a framework and a community to help them lead more moral lives and seek redemption and forgiveness when they slip up — they have a methodology, if you will, to help them navigate good and evil.

The fact is, there is good in this world and there is evil, and with every decision at every moment of every day, we are moving in one direction or the other.

Greek philosophers had names for what is good. They believed that prudence, temperance, courage and justice were virtues that all people longed for and should strive to master.

And while we’re striving for good, we need to fight the bad: excessive pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. These are known as the seven deadly sins — activities I save for the weekend.

Religion can help us navigate good and evil. I have certainly found this to be the case with Catholicism, my religion.

We Catholics have a lot of guidance to help us navigate what’s moral and immoral. We have the Bible, which offers plenty of instructions. We have the Ten Commandments, which, as columnist George F. Will once noted, are not called the Ten Suggestions.

It’s not really so complicated. We all long for beauty and detest ugliness. We all long to become good and root out evil. Religion and faith can help us, but it’s still not easy.

Heck, with my religion, you have to confess your sins out loud to another human being. Hearing yourself say what you did is an incredibly humbling thing to do — which is why I don’t do it very often — but, boy, does it make one try to be a more moral person.

In any event, in a general sense, I think many people who faithfully practice their religion have a slight edge over many people who practice none, where moral and immoral behavior are concerned.

For instance, religious people give way more to the needy than nonreligious people. Charity is a virtue, after all.

And though religious and nonreligious people may both be prone to immoral acts, the religious person has help to fend off immorality.

As the great Dear Abby once said, church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. E-mail him at: [email protected].


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.