What is the effect of Christianity on compassion?
Atheists are more motivated by compassion than the religious.
This finding a few years ago was surprising. It led many to wonder if rising secularism would lead to a better world. Particularly when we start to see how conflict follows the religious around like a puppy.
But another finding complicates that view and makes it even more unsettling for the Christian.
The group of people who are the least compassionate, most angry, and driving division in American culture are secular Christians. This is the group of people who claim Christian identity but never go to church.
It would seem an odd paradox: the most and least compassionate are people who don’t go to church.
So this would seem to suggest that church attendance and active participation in a Christian community has a moderating influence. For those always striving for the middle, this suggests far more unity and moderation from active participation in church.
But what then does this say about the influence of Christianity on something so foundational to Christianity as compassion?
A moderating influence on bad behaviors from the church would be a good thing. But moderating the good behaviors? The very things Jesus taught? Invite Paul to the social media party and we can only begin to imagine how his texts will be full of ALL CAPS, !!!!!!!, and shock emojis.
Not all things in moderation.
We have this mantra, which we often see as Paul defending of all things in moderation. Because Paul supported moderation in most behaviors.
Not compassion. Love. Devotion. Zealous in all these. Faith, hope, love. Everything.
These studies reveal division which is far too easily parsed as Left/Right. And it isn’t at all helpful to try.
It also isn’t helpful to parse religious/nonreligious, for the brands of identification don’t make the truth as easily revealed. Not when civil religion and cultural Christianity is increasingly unrecognizable as Christianity. Nor does it demonstrate much discipline or belief from its people.
But it remains that we have a strange arrangement: compassion, love, and generosity seem more common among the nonreligious than the religious. Not just hate, bigotry, or indifference. And to make it more difficult, rising secularism is also changing those very definitions and expectations.
It all would be confusing if we ignored tradition, scripture, and reason. If we ignored the truth we receive from the faithful and from Jesus:
That we will be known by our love.
Not we will be known by our moderate application of love.
And certainly not from our vigorous defense of Christian culture.