WASHINGTON — During times of struggle, it’s no secret that people will turn to religion for strength. Now, a new study on religion has come to some encouraging conclusions regarding how people view their religious obligations to help others of different faiths. Regardless of religious differences, studied individuals from Fiji and Israel said that God would want them to treat everyone equally.
There are tons of examples throughout history, as well as to this day, of different religions being at odds with one another. These conflicts have led to unspeakable atrocities and full out wars going back centuries. So, while these findings are somewhat surprising from a cynical perspective, the study’s authors say that religious diversity can actually stabilize a society given the right circumstances.
“Contrary to popular opinion, our findings suggest that, at least in some contexts, religious belief can attenuate, as opposed to promote, religious tension,” comments study author Michael Pasek in a press release.
The research, led by scientists from The New School for Social Research and Artis International, included 727 Christians, Muslims, and Hindus living in Fiji and 539 Jewish Israelis.
Participants were given two hypothetical scenarios involving a burning house. Across both, each participant was asked if a passerby should run in, sacrifice their life, and save the people in the house. In the first, five people of the same religion as the passerby were trapped in the house, in the second scenario the trapped people were of a different faith. Each participant was also asked about which action they thought God would want the passerby to take.
Regardless of personal faith, all the participants said that God would want someone of one religion to sacrifice his or her life for others of a different religion. This was true even when some participants said they themselves would be indifferent to the deaths of others outside their religion. Even if they didn’t agree with the sentiment, they admitted that God would want anyone to be saved.
In fact, when participants indicated that they would rather see people of their religion saved from the house over others, they said God wouldn’t appreciate such an approach.
“In our previous research, we found similar beliefs among Muslim Palestinian youth, who thought that Allah would be more likely than them to want an in-group member to save Jewish Israelis. Our current work shows this belief is also held among Christian, Hindu, and Jewish populations,” comments co-author Jeremy Ginges.
This suggests that the potential for religious beliefs to promote intergroup cooperation is not just limited to members of proselytizing religions, like Christianity and Islam,” Pasek adds.
The study is published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.