Analysis on recent survey results may provide Christians with some encouragement—and reproof.
I got some terrific responses to my previous articlethat focused on how religious faith can lead to an increased level of altruistic behavior among various religious traditions. The surprising conclusion was that there were very small differences between evangelicals and those with no religious affiliation (often called the “nones”) in regards to the number of altruistic activities engaged in. In fact, the differences in overall altruism scores were not statistically significant between most groups and the gap between the most altruistic group and the least was just 4.6%. That came as a surprise to me and a few people who reached out on social media and via email. I had one careful reader note that he believed that evangelicals showed higher degrees of empathy than those without a religious affiliation.
Like most concepts in the social sciences, empathy is hard to define. The mostly widely accepted definition of empathy is that it has two components: the feeling we get in response to seeing an emotional response in others (crying during a wedding when the couple gets emotional), as well as identifying and understanding someone else’s emotions (walking a mile in someone else’s shoes). It just so happens that the General Social Survey asked a series of questions that were meant to tap into both of these expressions of empathy. One caveat is that these questions were only asked in the 2002 and 2004 waves of the survey, but I don’t have any reason to believe that empathy has changed a great deal in the last fifteen years.
Here are the seven statements:
- I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
- I describe myself as soft-hearted
- I feel pity for someone being treated unfairly
Source: Christianity Today Magazine