A threat of Divine punishment makes people more generous

Humanists, and non-religious people in general, usually view with distain, those aspects of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious teaching that feature the concept that God cares deeply about human behavior, and frequently punishes both individuals and communities, for uncharitable and immoral activities.

Non-religious people firmly believe that they themselves do not need the threat of Divine punishment to reduce their own natural tendency to be selfish and uncharitable. And this might be true for some of them, although the concept/opinion of the ineffectiveness of the threat of Divine punishment has never been proven. But now there is new experimental evidence for traditional religious views.

According to a new study reported in the February 10, 2016 issue of Nature, the answer to what you would do with some unexpected cash; keep the money for yourself or give it away to a faraway stranger, may depend on what kind of God you believe in.

A God who cares about human behavior; and punishes transgressions, as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, should make people more cooperative; and could have helped societies grow from polytheistic nature worshiping, hunter-gatherer bands to politically complex monotheistic states.

To test the idea that a moralizing God concept fosters group-oriented generosity, even across long distances, researchers asked 591 people, from hunter-gatherers in Tanzania to wage workers in Brazil, to play an economic game. Participants were given some money and asked to roll a die. If a certain color came up, they were supposed to drop some coins in their own pot; another color, and they were supposed to put the money in a pot destined for a stranger in another community who shared their religion.

No one was watching the game, and the researchers expected a certain amount of cheating.

When the scientists tallied up the coins in each pot, they found that in both rounds; people who believed in a God who punished uncharitable people, gave more money to distant strangers.

But, belief in a God with a propensity to reward good behavior did not increase generosity in the same way, suggesting supernatural retribution may have been a key element in encouraging cooperation and helping human societies expand.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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