This should surprise nobody:
Atheists and agnostics are more driven by compassion to help others than are highly religious people, a new study finds.
That doesn’t mean highly religious people don’t give, according to the research to be published in the July 2012 issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. But compassion seems to drive religious people’s charitable feelings less than other groups.
“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” study co-author and University of California, Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer said in a statement. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”
For atheists, compassion is all we have as a moral motivator. It is the religious who are always telling us that we must be moral, not because virtue is its own reward, but because hell awaits us if we don’t. Hell only matters if kindness didn’t get the job done, or if one of your moral rules is in flagrant opposition to compassion.