As I understand the Bible, we’re supposed to love others unconditionally. I understand this to mean not only regardless of what others might have done to us, but also regardless of who they are. I’ve heard countless sermons on this, and, frankly, I probably need to hear–and enact–many more.
Social psychologists have studied altruism–helping other people in need–and it turns out that there is systematic variation in who we are willing to help. One of the factors has been termed “deservingness.” That is, are people worth our assistance. Already, from the language of the concept of deservingness alone, we can tell that it’s at odds with the Christian definition of love.
The impact of deservingness on helping others has been documented in various studies, and a classic study was conducted by my Ph.D. mentor, the late Irving Piliavin, and his wife Jane, in 1969. In a very clever design, four researchers would ride the subway in New York, and one of them would stagger and fall down while the other three would [Read more...]