Sorry James McGrath, but Religious People are Nicer

James McGrath has a post on Religious Does Not Always Correlate with Ethics. McGrath’s point is valid insofar as religious and non-religious people are both capable of good and evil deeds. No sane person denies this! We all know that religion can bring out the best and the worst of people.

However, it seems that, generally speaking, religious people are nicer. No, that’s no good ‘ol evangelical propaganda, it’s not even intuition, its fact.

In a SMH article Simon Smart of the Center for Public Christianity writes a piece on God’s Truth, Believers Are Nicer Say Researchers. Smart refers to a study by Robert Putnam a professor of public policy at Harvard University that shows that generosity, volunteering, and charity giving by people of faith well and truly exceeds their secular counter-parts. Smart notes:

Their most conspicuously controversial finding is that religious people make better citizens and neighbours. Putnam and Campbell write that ”for the most part, the evidence we review suggests that religiously observant Americans are more civic, and in some respects simply ‘nicer’ ”. On every measurable scale, religious Americans are more generous, more altruistic and more involved in civic life than their secular counterparts. They are more likely to give blood, money to a homeless person, financial aid to family or friends, a seat to a stranger and to spend time with someone who is ”a bit down”.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/gods-truth-believers-are-nicer-20110908-1jzrl.html#ixzz1XVWWbEIa

  • Anonymous

    Or are nice people more religious…?

  • Anonymous

    Or are nice people more religious…?

  • Anonymous

    I quick google turned up a counter article: http://www.slate.com/id/2203614/ which points out that people in other countries are “nice” in spite of lack of belief in God. Interestingly:

    “most Danes and Swedes identify themselves as Christian. They get married in church, have their babies baptized, give some of their income to the church, and feel attached to their religious community—they just don’t believe in God.”

  • Anonymous

    I quick google turned up a counter article: http://www.slate.com/id/2203614/ which points out that people in other countries are “nice” in spite of lack of belief in God. Interestingly:

    “most Danes and Swedes identify themselves as Christian. They get married in church, have their babies baptized, give some of their income to the church, and feel attached to their religious community—they just don’t believe in God.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Did you read the whole thing? The article continues:

    “A sobering note for believers is that this study reveals that the content of a person’s belief isn’t what matters so much as their level of involvement in a religious community.
    An atheist who comes to church to support her partner will rate as well as any believer on these scores.”

    A colleague of mine has suggested that, when you add up all the harm done in the name of religion and all the good, the net effect is zero. I’m not sure whether he’s right, but that wasn’t the point the image was making. Rather, it is that one can always find examples of good and bad individuals associated with any tradition, and so pointing to them as though it proves something about that tradition is not a valid argument, or even an argument at all. I think that point still stands.

    • Mike Bird

      James I acked the point that you made as one can find examples of good and bad religion/non-religion, but my counter-point was that religiously people nonetheless are “nicer” and “better” citizens than most non-religious people. That point still stands! I think your church going atheist is a rarity, at least in Oz and Scotland where I’ve lived and gone to church.

      • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Rather than prolong the discussion unnecessarily, I’m happy to concede that you are at least .00000001% nicer than the nicest atheist I know. :-)

        But I do wonder whether comparing “niceness” is even meaningful, never mind whether the comparison is accurate and well-founded in evidence. What tests will we use to determine people’s extent of niceness, will we have random niceness screenings when they are not expecting them (to check whether the niceness is genuine), and will we have people convert and deconvert in order to allow for comparisons?

        I’m being facetious. As someone who has had a life-changing born again experience, I would say that my religious faith has made me a nicer person, over all. But I also know that in a younger and immaturer period in my life, my faith not only challenged my egotistical tendencies in some ways but provided an outlet for them in others.

        At any rate, I am not certain that you are wrong, and am delighted to have this opportunity to express our niceness in our interaction with one another. I am just not really sure that we have a reliable way of verifying whether you are right. And I apologize if it wasn’t nice of me to say so! :-)

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Did you read the whole thing? The article continues:

    “A sobering note for believers is that this study reveals that the content of a person’s belief isn’t what matters so much as their level of involvement in a religious community.
    An atheist who comes to church to support her partner will rate as well as any believer on these scores.”

    A colleague of mine has suggested that, when you add up all the harm done in the name of religion and all the good, the net effect is zero. I’m not sure whether he’s right, but that wasn’t the point the image was making. Rather, it is that one can always find examples of good and bad individuals associated with any tradition, and so pointing to them as though it proves something about that tradition is not a valid argument, or even an argument at all. I think that point still stands.

    • Mike Bird

      James I acked the point that you made as one can find examples of good and bad religion/non-religion, but my counter-point was that religiously people nonetheless are “nicer” and “better” citizens than most non-religious people. That point still stands! I think your church going atheist is a rarity, at least in Oz and Scotland where I’ve lived and gone to church.

      • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Rather than prolong the discussion unnecessarily, I’m happy to concede that you are at least .00000001% nicer than the nicest atheist I know. :-)

        But I do wonder whether comparing “niceness” is even meaningful, never mind whether the comparison is accurate and well-founded in evidence. What tests will we use to determine people’s extent of niceness, will we have random niceness screenings when they are not expecting them (to check whether the niceness is genuine), and will we have people convert and deconvert in order to allow for comparisons?

        I’m being facetious. As someone who has had a life-changing born again experience, I would say that my religious faith has made me a nicer person, over all. But I also know that in a younger and immaturer period in my life, my faith not only challenged my egotistical tendencies in some ways but provided an outlet for them in others.

        At any rate, I am not certain that you are wrong, and am delighted to have this opportunity to express our niceness in our interaction with one another. I am just not really sure that we have a reliable way of verifying whether you are right. And I apologize if it wasn’t nice of me to say so! :-)

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  • Brianmaiers

    Also, the role in the religious history of a culture in shaping the beliefs in the good plays an important part too. People who aren’t religious may very well be shaped by moral values inherited by two thousand years of Christian history in the west. I am thinking about David Bentley Hart’s arguments at this point.

  • Brianmaiers

    Also, the role in the religious history of a culture in shaping the beliefs in the good plays an important part too. People who aren’t religious may very well be shaped by moral values inherited by two thousand years of Christian history in the west. I am thinking about David Bentley Hart’s arguments at this point.

  • Brianmaiers

    As for Hitler being a “bad Christian,” I would say one who plans the demise of Christianity in their country would be considered a “bad Christian” http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-case-against-nazis-hitler-s-forces-planned-destroy-german.html?src=pm

  • Brianmaiers

    As for Hitler being a “bad Christian,” I would say one who plans the demise of Christianity in their country would be considered a “bad Christian” http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-case-against-nazis-hitler-s-forces-planned-destroy-german.html?src=pm

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameronjwest Cameron West

    are nice people more boring?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameronjwest Cameron West

    are nice people more boring?


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