A new study (1) published in the quarterly International Journal for the Psychology of Religion carried out jointly by researchers from the Universities of Oregon and British Columbia, USA, suggests that a mean, punishing God actually deterred groups of college students from cheating on tests. By comparison, belief in a loving forgiving God had absolutely no effect on reducing levels of cheating on the tests, and this group ranked similar to non-believers. The test was designed with a math test on computer, with the participants being told that due to a software glitch, the answer would briefly appear on screen, and by pressing the spacebar, one had the opportunity to take a moral stance. The beliefs of the students regarding the God question were studied using 14 parameters.
This was part of a series of planned studies carried out to find the effect of religion on enforcing or promoting moral adherence, something which has been debated in various studies in recent years. In this study, a mean, vicious revengeful idea of God enforcing some aspects of moral behavior, but this cannot be generalized to many other areas of morality or a general framework of ethical behavior itself. ‘God is watching us’ is a deep-seated belief that perhaps cannot be translated to prevention of unethical actions like hatred towards those who believe in a different kind of God, or ecological thoughtlessness for instance. It cannot perhaps be argued or demonstrated that religious views influence moral behavior in the broad sense of the term, based on most current evidence.
Similarly, not cheating on tests can also be enforced equally well through the use of surveillance cameras or intelligent robots, perhaps acting as a surrogate for a punitive God who monitors our actions, or even by making tests non-competitive. Indeed, several biological models for ‘cheating’ as a form of competitive behaviour (for resources or recognition) can be created.
Finally, a lot of ethical and moral behavior is either culturally inherited or innate, in societies without beliefs in revengeful, punishing supernatural Gods or any engrained beliefs in Gods at all. To argue that one of the main driving forces for the development of religions has been enforcing morality wouldn’t perhaps stand up to examination through evidence, because of a sort of ‘cultural blindness’ regarding certain types of morally acceptable behavior in certain groups, yet not shared by others.
It is this myopia that often gives organized religion a bad name, as a lot of immoral behavior is non-judgmentally ‘accepted’ in the name of a certain set of theological beliefs, being given primacy over reason.
University of Oregon. “Different views of God may influence academic cheating.” ScienceDaily, 21 Apr. 2011.
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