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Religion and caring
no_ambiguity
Do you think that without religion far fewer people would do caring work/charity work? I have worried in the past, that without religion, all we'd have is horrible capitalist greed and self interest.

I don't know, and I have no data whatsoever, so feel free to link to things. I think that Christianity can often harm the poor, for instance, in the Catholic church's refusal to promote condom usage to prevent HIV transmission.

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I doubt you can come up with decent figures which aren't subject to selection bias - atheists are a decidedly self-selecting group and the extent to which we care for others is definitely culturally affected so you can't compare countries.

As a purely personal opinion I don't think you'd see much change from today, but then we have a basically secular society now anyway.

One objection to your view is, of course, that public works paid for by industrial philanthropists had their heyday in the late 19th century. It'd be interesting to know how the donation culture in that subgroup's changed in the last century (though probably not so relevant to a debate on religion as a debate on the connection between charity and capitalism).


I know a fair number of liberal atheists who do work for charities and the like.
I do think that religion can act as a spur for people, but mostly I believe that religion doesn't make people do things - people use it as an excuse to do the things they already want to.

Yes, but they also use it as a reason to do things they don't want to do - a loss of all religion would mean that the people who give their time and money out of a sense of duty because they know God wants them to would just stop.

Not necessarily. I manage to do things that I think are good that I don't really want to do while remaining an atheist.

Well, this is the real question. Do religious people who behave morally (or some significant proportion of them) genuinely do so because they think God wants them to, in the sense that if they stopped believing in God they would instantly turn into Machiavellian bastards?

My gut feeling totally unsupported by evidence (which I state up front just so nobody has to gradually discover that fact through gruelling cross-questioning ten comments down the line :-) is that they probably don't: whatever people think their conscious motivation is for behaving in a 'moral' way, I reckon pretty much all of them will really be responding to a subconscious sense of wrongness instilled into them during their upbringing, and that sense of wrongness won't go away if the surface trappings change. You might see some people who change religion also change their opinions on the edge cases of morality on which there isn't clear consensus anyway (e.g. premarital sex), but I doubt very many people would lose their morality completely and become murdering thieves if they lost their religion, however much they might currently think they'd have no reason not to.

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