Cheating and Benevolent God: How A Mean God Makes Better People

Does an angry and vengeful God make for better people? Apparently so according to a new study by University of Oregon psychologists, who found the link between one's willingness to cheat and the belief of a benevolent God:

In line with many previous studies, it found no difference between the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But those who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.

"The take-home message is not whether you believe in God, but what God you believe in," said Azim Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. Shariff conducted the study with psychologist Ara Norenzayan, who had been his doctoral advisor at the University of British Columbia.

Doesn't this remind you of the age-old joke of "I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness."


I've always heard that joke attributed to Emo Phillips.
But maybe he was cheating.

I don't know about "better" people. It is more like frightened people terrified of eternal torture for shoplifting a pack of gum. It is coerced behavior.

And I suspect that is why Romania had such a low crime rate under Vlad The Impaler.
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I agree, Dave. People who fear their god may avoid certain behaviors to avoid punishment, but they are not morally superior. The study was small and canted toward the desired result.

Christian religions that believe in a punitive god often believe in regular corporal punishment, even to the level of abuse (and death), of children, and some extend this to women. Being brought up with this kind of fear does not improve your morals, it just makes you avoid any behavior that might result in punishment.
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In all things use the appropriate tool? If certain people respond best to fear and aggression, then that's what you use to get through to them. Other people respond better to other methods; in which cases you should use those other methods. But fear and aggression are base emotions and getting over them takes practice, and perhaps intelligence. The media loves base emotions for the same reason: more people are attracted to those than anything 'bland'. Make them afraid and they'll herd themselves to wherever they can get away from what's making them afraid. Or perhaps they'll just attack it. Or try to have sex with it...

If it were easier to train people to be more thoughtful (in the sense of intelligent forethought, etc) we wouldn't be seeing so much of these base emotions being used as the means. But there are a lot of 'stupid' people in this world. I wish I could say I'm above those base emotions, but I'm not. Sometimes a good jolt of fear is what it takes to motivate me. I wish things were better, but perhaps the future will show us the better and humans won't have to be whipped like chattel.
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What I don't understand is why articles such as the one linked never provide a reference for the studies they discuss so that people have an opportunity to check it out for themselves?

For all we know, only a small fraction of participants were in the angry god group, which would offer a poor representation of the target population (keeping in mind they were all 1st year college students too). Similarly, the dependent variable (taking advantage of a computer glitch to cheat in a test) is not necessarily a good predictor of how individuals will perform in all moral/ethical situations.

The study is correlational in nature and offered no control, so there may be extraneous or confounding variables that correlate with belief type that may have affected the results above and beyond the type of god they believe in.

This study also had extremely high face validity so it would have been quite obvious that they were measuring whether or not the students would cheat, which may have affected results. First years are usually subjected to a range of social experiments and come to be quite good at picking up on the intent of studies and may inintentionally malinger.

It's clear that some believers will interpret this as to why people should believe in god (especially a mean god), but if a study came out saying that a belief in unicorns enhanced moral behaviour, does that mean we should be promoting unicorn belief?
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Nice god, mean god, blah blah blah.

How about NO god. Why don't we check THOSE statistics?

According to independent polls, approximately 19% of Americans are atheist or "non-regligious".

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, approximately 0.209% of prisoners are atheist (note that specific religions account for the other 99.791%, so this figure specifically also includes "non-regligious" and agnostics).

Of course I'm sure some atheist prisoners lie about their beliefs because "finding god" seems to be a pre-requisite for parole among some moronic parole boards.

The fact remains that atheists make a much larger percentage of the general population than the prison population.
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The atheists I have known have always been the nicest, most considerate, most compassionate people I have ever met. To the point that I would say religion makes for rotten, awful people so fixated on preparing for the next world that they destroy the world they are in now and make it horrid for everyone.
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Actually the take home is more and less than what God you believe in. The take home is whether or not you think you are being monitored.

Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely, who penned Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, performed experiments with students and exams to see if they would cheat more or less when being monitored. He found that they had a tendency to cheat more when they were not being monitored.

Ariely then performed several more tests of conduct. He had participants review the University's Code of Conduct before taking the exam, and that group cheated less than the control. He also found that reminders of religious values served to mitigate cheating. In actuality, it seems, that whether or not a person cheats has more to do with whether or not they are aware of a moral order or are being monitored and whether or not there is some reproussion for immoral behavior.

How does atheism factor into that? Well atheists generally don't believe they are being monitored for their private intentions at all. If there is no monitoring in-place, reason suggests they would be more likely to cheat. So why aren't there many atheists in prison?

One way to look at the question is to remember that religion is kind of the opium of the poor. The poor and underprivledged are more likely to endorse a religion that provides them with some kind of salvation. They are also more likely to commit property crimes and crimes of passion. So it is at least plausible that there is some socioeconomic reason for the disparity in belief and crime.

Finally, although I can identify with atheism in many of its skeptical aspects, I do ascend to a belief in both a benevolent and a wrathful God. I do not actually see any problem with believing in both and still remaining atheistic in some respects. Perhaps had the question been asked if God is wrathful and not angry or mean, then the results would be different. Because I think many believe in a benevolent but wrathful God and not an angry one.
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My own view of God transcends dualistic terms like theism and atheism or benevolence and wrath. God is more akin to the Yin-Yang which presents itself in dual aspect to the human mind.

Theists may ponder whether or not God has a cause or is the first cause itself. But atheists will engage in a similar discourse using the term "Universe" and/or "Big Bang".

Indeed, it is a bit ironic that early rejections to Big Bang theory was the weight it gave to theistic intonations of a first cause. It was actually secular minds who disliked it. But now the tables have shifted and somehow it is no longer sufficient a first cause for theists, but it is for atheists.

These categories are all pretty illusory and I think it's just a big bag of babel.
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