Love God, Cheat on Tests

If you believe in a loving, compassionate God you are more likely to cheat than people who believe in an angry, punitive God. This is according to a new study released called, “Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior” and covered in the April 30th edition of the L.A. Times.

In line with many previous studies, it found no difference between the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But those who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.

“The take-home message is not whether you believe in God, but what God you believe in,” said Azim Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon. Shariff conducted the study with psychologist Ara Norenzayan, who had been his doctoral advisor at the University of British Columbia.

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More and more research is being done that youth workers need to unpack and adapt their philosophy of ministries to. There are studies like this, many of them, which show that Christian students aren’t altogether more moral than their non-Christian peers. (They cheat as much, sleep around as much, get in as many fights, etc.) And there are studies like Christian Smith’s work out of Notre Dame which shows that youth group graduates often believe in a god but not necessarily the God of the Bible. (Something he labels moralistic therapeutic deism.) and the Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith study which will be published later this year. (Based on what I’ve seen/heard from FYI, there seems to be some strong correlations between certain types of ministry/parenting skills and a successful transition from middle adolescent faith development to adult faith.)

Here’s what we do know:

  • There are plenty of people in America who worship the God they want to believe in instead of the God of the Bible. The first sentence delineates between a punitive God and a compassionate God. In truth, God reveals himself in the Bible as both. While we can’t fully define God with our finite minds, God has shown us that He possesses moral and non-moral attributes, the fullness of which we struggle to grasp.
  • While freedom from bondage to sin is part of the sanctification process, it is not the means nor main point of salvation through Jesus Christ. There’s a difference between being bought and paid for and going on to live a moral life. Christians believe there will be many, many good people in hell. Being good doesn’t make you any more a believer in Christ for salvation than being a Cubs fan makes you eternally optimistic. Somewhere along the way how we are teaching adolescents is leading them to believe that a life with Jesus means we can be happy sinners.
  • Much of our evangelical “nice” culture isn’t changing culture as much as its leaders would like to believe it is. I’ve never met a youth pastor who would admit that her students would cheat on test as much or more than their peers. They will always defer and say, “Not my kids.
  • Something in what we are teaching is awry if it doesn’t lead to high moral standards. While the point of a life with Christ isn’t to have flawless morals… it truly should be the by-product of a life sold out for Jesus! I don’t know what is going wrong, but somewhere, something is lost in translation.
  • Followers look up to their leaders. They behave the way their leaders do and they model their lives after them. So these studies also reveal something deeply wrong and disturbing about church leadership. We each must examine ourselves and ask difficult questions, seeking accountability. How is it that our leadership is leading to a belief that it is OK to lie, cheat, and act immoral?

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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