A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Does Belief in a Loving God Lead to Moral Laxity?

On his blog today, John Byron highlights a recent study which concludes that students who believe in a loving God are more likely to cheat their way through school.
In the first study, 61 undergraduates were asked to take a mathematics test on a computer that contained a software glitch. If they failed to press the space bar immediately after reading each problem, the glitch would cause the correct answer to appear on the screen and that just wouldn’t be fair. After taking the test, the students were asked about their perceptions of God.

Of course the sneaky researchers — believers in a benevolent God, no doubt — had peeked to see who had used the space bar and who hadn’t. While they found no differences between self-described believers and non-believers, the psychologists discovered that the students who think of God as angry and punitive were significantly less likely to have cheated.

“Taken together, our findings demonstrate, at least in some preliminary way, that religious beliefs do have an effect on moral behavior, but what matters more than whether you believe in a god is what kind of god you believe in,” Mr. Shariff said.
As I read this story I was reminded of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.

I'm not so much interested in the actual character of God in this post as I am over the seeming fact that we human beings seem to have quite a difficult time balancing our understanding of God as loving and just-- a God who is merciful but expects obedience, a God who saves but will also judge. We use God's love, not as motivation to love God in return by living faithful lives, but we employ it as a means to achieve our own ends.

Stanley Hauerwas says that the problem with the modern church is revealed is the first question we bring to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The question for contemporary Western Christians on reading the story is "Why would God do that?" when the first question we should ask is, "What kind of people do Christians have to be to take the gospel that seriously?" Moreover, it is Bishop William Willimon who has said that the rejection of judgment is nothing more than a recipe for mutual corruption.

 Don Troop, the writer of the article ends by saying, "Perhaps if more students could see their cheating classmates struck by lightning, academic dishonesty would be a thing of the past."

Perhaps... but I doubt it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hmm, I'm not too happy about the way some of this is worded. Did the students believe that God was all loving no matter what they did (unconditional)? And did the students who believe God was angry and punitive also connect that to God's thoughts of sinful behavior without believing that is solely God's character without any deviation?