Religion & Altruism

Thank you to the New York Times (and Jonathan Sacks) for a thought-provoking perspective on why religion is needed in society.

“Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.”


  1. R Jonathan Sacks is a smart guy. Also knows how to make religion look cool (can be only a matter of revealing inner coolness rather than through a cosmetic application process). And not saying he’s wrong either. Still a couple things sit up. There’s no causative relationship established. So does a correlation show anything surprising? Certainly makes surface sense that religious groups have altruistic habits (selfselection and all that). Second, the evolutionary benefits of altruism bear consideration. Groups need a raison d’etre. Religious groups have a ready one, often articulated in the specific ways that their heritage lays out as doing God’s work or expressing God’s will. (In this country, if you want to obtain tax benefits, you must state a mission consistent with community interest as articulated in your state tax code.) In this instance then, being altruistic actually has a direct financial benefit – you do your work consistent with the stated priorities of the larger polity, and you got money left after bills are paid where others have to pay taxes.

    Sound a little cold? Maybe, even though I (obviously?) recognize the benefits of religious affiliation, it’s because I think (ringringring! Grandma calling!) people do what they do out of selfinterest. Don’t believe in altruism. NO SUCH THING. People do what they do out of selfinterest. (Is there an echo here here?) Thank heaven above or impulse below or uncomprehendable ether all around, there are lotsa people (like the blogger at hand) who find that their selfinterest is advanced by contributing to the greater good and welfare of those around them. But you, Amalyah Oren, do what you do not just because you’re contributing to the greater good and welfare of those around you (you gotta fix the acoustics here), you do what you do because it provides GREATER MEANING TO WHAT YOU DO. You’re doing it because it makes YOU feel right.

    And thank goodness for that.

    • Maybe the altruistic thing is that you feel good doing things for others?

  2. You mean we’re talking semantics? mebbe….

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