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Saturday, April 30, 2011

God and Cheating

Here we go again. I just can’t help loving these junky social science studies that purport to provide revelations about human behavior. Previously, I have reported on one that proved the alarming conclusion that teenagers lie about sex (whether bragging about "experience" or "restraint"). Another expensive study explained why students procrastinate ... they fear failure or are just plain lazy. Who woulda thunk it?

Now the L.A. Times reports one of the best I have ever seen. A magazine with the self important title of "International Journal for the Psychology of Religion" published a startling study (which they did not conduct, but instead claimed to have vetted and peer reviewed), called "Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior".

As the title suggests, the 100 undergrad students who were tempted to cheat on a test were asked about their particular beliefs in a deity. The study concluded that those who claimed to believe in a fire and brimstone, vengeful, scary Old Testament kind of God cheated less than those who asserted a belief that "God" was just and merciful.

"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 article quotes many other studies, including surveys that have concluded that 95% of Americans believe in the existence of God. But which God?

Another study broke it down for us, reminding us that we mostly see God as we see our parents:

"...28% believe in an ‘authoritative’God who is engaged in the world and judgmental,

... 22% in an engaged but ‘benevolent’ God who loves us despite our failings.

Two other groups of believers view the deity as more abstract and less engaged:

...21% conceive of a ‘critical’ God who keeps track of our sins and may render judgment in the afterlife,

... 24% see a ‘distant’ God who set the universe in motion but is not involved in day-to-day life."

[***the last is more like the model my God / parents followed.]

Another conclusion was that:

"More wrathful images of God are related to moral absolutism, while people with benevolent, loving images of God tend to be moral relativists."

[Implication: moral relativists are more likely to cheat. "Moral relativism" of course is a pejorative term used by conservative religionists to refer to "secular humanism", i.e., Godless athiests, aka Liberals.]

Although the co-author of the study acknowledged the need for objectivity, this study, like almost every other one I have read, whether I agreed with the results or not, is highly suspect.

I have spent 40 years questioning people (including thousands of prospective jurors), devising questionnaires to elicit "honest" viewpoints about personal beliefs. My conclusion is that it is almost impossible to be certain about whether the answers provided can be relied on to draw any conclusions.

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