All Do as I say, not as I do At the bottom is an article that appeared in the 'Living' sec
Do as I say, not as I do
At the bottom is an article that appeared in the "Living" section of
the 9/11/93 edition of the _San Jose Mercury News_. It is a summary of
a soon-to-be-published study which shows that religious belief and
ethical behavior have little to no correlation. Obviously this is not
news to us, but it probably is news to many of those who believe that
a person is moral only if he or she believes that Jesus died for our
A few comments about the article. First, there were no error bars
reported so most of the comparisons that the article talks about are
probably statistical washes. Second, I'm not sure what the term
"irreligious" means in the context of this article. It sometimes means
just atheists and agnostics, but in this case I think it means those
who believe religion is "unimportant" in their lives, which could
include a large number of Christians. Finally, it would be interesting
to know whether or not the difference in behavior between church-goers
and non church-goers is mostly a matter of "peer pressure" rather than
church-goers somehow being more "moral".
Michael Wang, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOT AS I PREACH, By Richard Scheinin
When it comes to lying on job resumes, cheating on exams or
plagiarizing reports, folks who consider themselves devout churchgoers
often leave their ethics at the chapel door when they return to their
homes and jobs.
In fact, according to a soon-to-be-released report, the ethical
behavior of people who say religion is "essential" to their lives is
often not distinguishable from the behavior of those who describe
religion as "unimportant."
The findings "run counter-intuitive to what many people expect,"
says Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics
in Marina del Ray, which researched and produced "Ethics, Values,
Attitudes and Behavior in America: the Impact of Religious Belief,
Gender and Age."
"There's a general assumption that people make that religious
people are more honest than non-religious people," says Josephson.
"They are," he says, pausing for emphasis. "_Slightly_."
Josephson based his opinion on the results of interviews about
ethical behavior with nearly 9,000 people, 60 percent under age 25.
More than 5,000 responded to questions about the degree of their
Among other things, the report says 13 percent of the people who
regard religion as "essential" have lied to get jobs (as opposed to 15
percent of irreligious people); that 36 percent of the same religious
group cheated on exams as high school seniors (compared with 39
percent of irreligious people); that 30% percent of respondents who
regard religion as "essential" cheated in college (as opposed to 29
percent for the irreligious); and that 20 percent of them admitted to
submitting other people's work as their own (as opposed to 21 percent
of their irreligious counterparts).
There were some brighter spots for the religious group: Only 18
percent admitted to stealing merchandise from a store in the past year
(29 percent of the irreligious said they had done so).
And those who say religion is "essential" were less cynical: They
tended to disagree that it is necessary to lie or cheat to get ahead
in society, and were less likely to say they would be willing to do
so. "The religious people are much more optimistic about their own
virtue," says Josephson.
What does this it all add up to?
"It sounds like original sin continues to flourish, and that is not
news," says the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, the social commentator who
edits "First things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life."
[...]The institute set out to analyze the overall impact of religious
faith on behavior, without categorizing those who responded according
to their specific denominations or faiths. Those who responded to
questions about religiosity fell into four groups: those who said
religion was "unimportant;" those who said it was "somewhat
important"; those who said it was "very important"; and, finally,
those who said it was "essential" to their lives.
Only when considering the extremes -- the groups who characterized
religion as "unimportant" and "essential" -- were there any
discernible differences in ethical behavior. Otherwise, the
"unimportant" group's behavior was indistinguishable from the others'.
There is a large body of research that indicates _what_ religious
people think about proper ethical behavior, but a somewhat smaller
body that attempts to analyze how their beliefs translate into action.
A 1992 Gallup study showed that church members are more charitable
than non-members: 78 percent of church members had made donations of
food, clothing or other property in the previous year (as opposed to
66 percent of non-members); 54 percent had "directly helped" a needy
neighbor (42 percent of non-members did so); and 37 percent "directly
helped" a homeless person (compared with 33 percent of non-members).
Other surveys show that religious people are somewhat less likely
to drive while intoxicated or steal in the workplace. But, as with the
Josephson study, the manner in which people characterize their
religiosity does not always seem to have a dramatic effect on the way
they live out their lives. Perhaps that's not surprising.
"One would like to believe that people who think of themselves as
devout Christians would also behave in a manner that is in accord with
Christian ethics," says Neuhaus. "But pastorally and existentially, I
know that that is not the case -- and never has been the case."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank