The article shares this quote:
“Religion and morality are two different things,” said lead author Jean Decety, a Chicago University neuroscientist.
“Past research has demonstrated that religious people are no more likely to do good than their non-religious counterparts. Our study goes beyond that, showing that religious people are less generous — not only adults, but children, too.”Which brought to my mind this quote:
However, the thing that really caught my attention was the concept Mr Decety referred to as "moral licensing":
He attributed the findings to a phenomenon dubbed “moral licensing”, where people’s perceptions that they were doing good — in this case, practising religion — exempted them from the obligation to perform other worthy deeds. “Apparently, doing something that helps strengthen our positive self-image also makes us less worried about the consequences of immoral behaviour,” he said. [Emphasis added]
Now, he was talking about religious people generally, but I immediately thought about the unbelievably abusive and 'immoral' behaviour of some 'church leaders' and wondered if this author could be onto something. Because I have never been able to comprehend how someone who claims to be one of God's children, could act with such callous disregard for the feelings of others. How some 'church leaders' can see the pain and distress they cause to another human being and simply shrug it off, disclaiming any responsibility for that trauma? What is it that gives them such a capacity to look upon the suffering they've caused and feel not one jot of compassion? Why do they seem so incapable of feeling the smallest twinge of empathy?
But if what he is saying holds true, then the one who is super-strengthened in their self-image by being 'The Man of God', might readily feel far less worried about behaving immorally - or even in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus himself! It would certainly go a long way to explaining why so many religious leaders act as if they believe they are a law unto themselves.
Is it possible that being a religious leader (especially if you have had to climb over others to get that status) brings with it the danger of falling into such a delusional state that any behaviour can be justified in your own mind simply because you see yourself as morally superior to anyone else, convinced that your cause is God's own!?
That's an incredibly scary thought, and yet there is ample evidence of religious leaders seeming to do exactly that: throwing people under the bus, punishing people by dragging them through the courts, creating such division in families that relationships are permanently destroyed! The list is not only endless, but it's absolutely gut-wrenching! And yet so many who have behaved in such ways not only show no remorse or regret, but angrily defend their behaviour to anyone brave enough to question them.
Maybe that's why Jesus warned that none of us should be called 'leader'. He knew all too well the propensity of some to 'lord it over' their brothers and sisters. I think he knew the very real dangers we face the moment we start to believe our own advertising and step into that place where we see ourselves as being in some way superior to other human beings.