A recent study has found that religious people, in general, have less compassion than others who are not religious. NPR article This is odd, since it has already been shown that religious people tend to give more to charity than the non-religious. Study by Stanford
What does this mean? First of all, that the religious give more out of duty rather than compassion. It would be interesting to try to get the numbers that religious and secular people give to charities to the poor or give to political causes or one’s own religious community. It also means that duty is a more effective means of motivating giving rather than compassion.
For Christians, however, why should this be? There is something terribly wrong with this. Some Christians say, “The important thing is that we are giving, not the motivation for giving.” At least when I first posted the original study and concluded something was wrong, that was the response I got. Obedience to the command of giving is what is important, not the motivation behind it.
I strongly disagree. For a number of reasons.
First of all, to give out of duty means that giving is significant, not where we give. Most Christians feel that it is sufficient to give to their church and their church primarily gives that money to staff salaries and property maintenance and growth. Because there is little concern about compassion, little of the money actually goes where Jesus says it goes. He never said, “Sell your possessions and give to the church.” The apostles didn’t take the sacrifice of the people and give themselves good salaries, nor did they build any buildings. Rather, they used the far majority of their funds creating programs for the poor. (Acts 4-5) The poor is where the majority of Christian funds should be given. There is nothing wrong with salaries (“The worker is worth his hire”) or buildings necessarily, but if the staff and buildings aren’t used for the benefit of the poor, then we are disobeying Jesus command. Thus, neglecting our true duty.
Secondly, we are supposed to have the character of God. This isn’t taught much in Christian churches, (sadly), but there is a strong theme in the NT about having the character of God. “Be imitators of God and walk in love” (Eph 5:1) “Love your enemies so you may be sons of your Father in heaven for he is kind to the ungrateful.” (Matthew 5:42-43)
And most Christians do know that we are supposed to imitate Jesus. And one of the main characteristics of Jesus is compassion for those in need. “He had compassion on them.” (Just in Matthew: 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34). Jesus spent all of his time teaching and meeting people’s needs. He really had no other ministry.
If the church of Jesus has rejected compassion as their main motivation, but duty, they are no longer sons of God, who is “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in merciful faithfulness.” Instead, we are slaves. The slave does the duty of the Master because they must. It is the son of the Master that sees his duty as being like the Master.
We all have a certain amount of empathy. Without it, we cannot learn, we cannot live in societies or communities. And we have the ability to exercise our compassion. If we refuse to grow our compassion, we refuse to become like God, thus we are refusing to be children of God. Yes, we can give out of duty, but then we remain slaves.
God deliver us from our limited moral vision.