A common complaint against religion is that it is guilt-inducing. Sometimes the complaints are tongue-in-cheek, as when sitcoms and comedians make jokes about “Catholic guilt,” “Jewish guilt,” “Baptist guilt,” etc. Other times, the complaints are more serious; for instance, when a client in therapy is suffering from a deep sense of inferiority or hopelessness brought on by an overly strict religious upbringing.
So what is the real relationship between religion and guilt?
The first study, from the University of British Columbia, notes that “Analytic Thinking Can Decrease Religious Belief.” (Although, considering the methodology, which appears to have involved having people do a questionaire measuring religious belief, do some mental activities like filling out additional questionaires intentionally printed in hard-to-read fonts [to engage analytic reasoning skills], and then retesting their belief levels, I’m not really sure what this study actually shows).
The second report is from UC Berkeley, which states, “Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than are Non-Believers.” This study assessed levels of religious faith of participants and then examined how likely participants were to give “10 lab dollars” (??) to a stranger after watching a video about children living in poverty.
According to the lead researcher “Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people.”
Um. Okay. Maybe…
In response to Vice President Biden’s comments this weekend in favor of gay marriage, many of his fellow Democrats, especially those who represent African American and Hispanic districts (two demographics generally opposed to same-sex marriage initiatives on, primarily, religious grounds) are having fits of apoplexy, arguing that they cannot support gay marriage ostensibly because it is against Christian teaching (and not just Christian teaching, but many other traditional faiths as well).
As the religion guy around here, I thought it might be helpful to take a moment to suggest that this view is really missing the point.
The most serious objections to gay marriage have absolutely nothing to do with religion. By and large, it is simply incorrect to frame the debate about marriage as primarily a “religious issue.”
Sometimes you’ll hear people make the comment, “He thinks he’s God’s gift to the world.” They mean it as a criticism, but the statement is true about each and every one of us. You ARE God’s gift to the world.
Christianity teaches us that everything we have; our talents, our treasure, even our minds, bodies and spirits, have been given to us as a gift that we are to use to work for the good of others. Every one of us was created with a specific purpose in mind.
God has a plan for your life and we can discern God’s intention for our lives by asking ourselves, “How can I use my gifts, talents, experience, heart, mind and strength to make the lives of the people around me better TODAY?”