There has been some mention, lately, of a study which showed children who are raised without religion tend to be more altruistic. The scientific validity of this study is uncertain but to me this is beside the point. The undertaking of such a study combined with the response to it calls to attention the number of people for whom this study would simply verify their own experiences with Christianity. For example, those who have been wounded by religion and those whose only exposure to religion is hate mongers who fill the media with the portrayal of an angry, judgmental, anti-homosexual, anti-sex, misogynistic, God with a persecution complex. For such people the idea religion might interfere with the development of altruism might seem rather obvious. As a person familiar with both the good and the bad of the church, even for me several reasons why religion might hamper altruism immediately sprang to mind.
It seems to me the underlying problem which has created a church with a reputation quite out of tune with “they will know we are Christians by our love” is a view of Christianity which emphasizes obedience to God before love of neighbor. To many there seems to be no problem with such an approach but to me this seems highly unhealthy. If God is the God of love then obedience to God would be love of neighbor and anything which looks like blind obedience would be contrary to that love. In fact any God worthy of the label “God of love” and worthy of our faith would demand of us such a great commitment to loving one another that we would stand up even to God, for the sake of our brothers and sisters.
There are even scriptures which support this idea. Moses stands up to God for the sake of the people. Abraham stands up to God multiple times for the sake of Sodom. The Syrophoenician woman stands up to Jesus for the sake of her daughter. True, there are other scriptures which seem to demand blind obedience. But, if I have to choose between scriptures which portray God as a petty, fickle, arrogant jerk who demands obedience or God as one who calls us to stand up for justice, mercy, and peace then I think I will go with the latter. Because any God worthy of faith would rather we turn our back on God than we turn our backs on our brothers and sisters. God is God. God can take it. Our brothers and sisters need us. They need us to be a stalwart, persistent, and passionate voice for justice, mercy, and peace. They need our love. They need our action. And, for the sake of all that is holy, they need us so committed to love we would fight with all that is in us against the remotest possibility our religion might get in the way of teaching our children things like altruism and compassion.
Let us set aside defensiveness in favor of introspection and repentance.