Love is one of the most valuable human attitudes and emotions. It is present in all religious teaching across many religions.
Religious Teachings of Love
God encourages people to love and be kind to others. Here are, for example, some examples of Christian teachings on love:
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”Romans 12:9-10
Islam teaches people to love each other for the sake of Allah. Allah will ask on the Day of Judgment:
“Where are those who loved each other for the sake of My glory? Today, on a day when there is no shade but Mine, I shall shade them with My shade.”Abu Hurairah, (Muslim)
Religious Kindness and Love for Others
Do religious people love only others who are of the same faith? Or can they be kind to others of any religion? Do their religious kindness and love cross religious borders?
A recent study, however, has shown that thinking about God encourages prosociality toward religious outgroups. This tendency spreads across cultures.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago investigated
- whether members of specific religions engage in altruistic behavior that only benefits members of their religion, or
- whether they are willing to treat members of other religions in the same manner.
It turns out that religious people, regardless of how they practice their faith, are more likely to be kind to others.
As Michael Pasek, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states:
“Religion is often thought to promote intergroup conflict and fuel hostility between people who hold different beliefs. Quite to the contrary — our findings suggest that belief in God, which is an important aspect of most world religions, may sometimes promote more positive intergroup relations.”
The leading author of the study, Michael Pasek, and his team have conducted field and online studies in which more than 4,700 people participated. They were from different cultural and religious backgrounds: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Middle Eastern, Fijian, and American Jewish people.
Participants had the opportunity to share money with anonymous people of various religions. The participants played multiple rounds of a real-world economic game. They needed to divide a sum of money among themselves and people from different backgrounds. During the first round, participants had to carefully consider their choices. Then, in the later rounds of this economic game, the researchers asked them to think about God before making a decision.
By the way, we should keep in mind that “Americans unsure about God are a fast-growing force in politics.“
Thinking of God Makes People More Generous
Nevertheless, when we think about God, we feel more kind and generous and give more to others.
The results of the study showed that thinking about God has a significant impact on decision-making. In the experimental situation, it resulted in an 11% increase in giving compared to the first rounds of the study.
As Jeremy Ginges, professor of psychology at The New School of Social Research, explains,
“Belief in gods may encourage cooperative norms that help us trade goods and ideas across group boundaries, which is essential to human flourishing. Of course, we are also a parochial species. Our team is now investigating how moral and supernatural beliefs help people balance their parochialism with their need for intergroup cooperation.”
Ginges then adds that there is a trend indicating that religion may prompt people to lend a helping hand more frequently. However, this is not always the case. Some members of a religion may believe that their faith requires them to support their own group more frequently than others.
Anyway, the results of this study demonstrate that religious faith is not responsible for as much intergroup violence, suffering, and distress. Contrary to this, religious faith actually helps strengthen interfaith connections.