Poll: Do Motivations Matter?

We need more love in the world. There is so much acidity, bad blood, inequality, bigotry, hatred, poverty, hunger, suffering, and sorrow all around us. Each of us could improve the situation by helping someone in need or promoting peace and love.

But what about those who do these things for religious or superstitious motivations?
Jack believes God is asking him to donate groceries to a food bank.
Rhoda has been taught that good Mormons should give to charity and volunteer their time.
Quinn is afraid of being cast into hell because he didn’t help the poor (Matthew 25:31-46).
Sam’s psychic told him that good fortune would come to him if he first gave a large sum of money to a homeless shelter.
Lola founded an international charity to provide water for the poor because she wants to lead thousands of souls to Jesus.

What about the good these people are doing? Do their motivations taint the effects of their charity and dedication? Is service done for wrong or religious reasons less of a service?

As long as you do the right thing, love others, and help the poor and needy, does it matter what your motivations are in the long run?

For the sake of the greater good, do motivations matter?

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November 19, 2009  |  questions, religion, society


  1. I think it is deplorable that someone wouldn't want to do that of "their own volition." But, as we know, religion is fairly cafeteria style, rules wise. As a result, I think there is a subconscious desire to do the good deed.

  2. Depends on what the motivations are. If you are passionate about something then you are more likely to do a good cause and do it well. If it is out of fear, because you think you will get something out of it, or to show off, yes it helps the people but you are only doing it because your feel you need to for a personal benefit. I understand that when donating money the money itself will not be different because of the reason you donate, it will go to the same place. So, if you are going to have a motive, make it one because you care about others, not yourself.

  3. The recipients of good works are better off, regardless of the motive of the person doing the good works. But… the transformational quality of service is lost if it's done as a reaction to fear, belief, etc. Doing "good works" from a sense of love and connectedness with others brings the do-er closer to a sense of one-ness with humanity (the only "religion" worth having).

  4. I think it depends on the results of your motivations.

    If you go to Africa to build wells because your god tells you to, and you build wells, then that's a good thing.

    If you go to Africa to build wells because your god tells you to convert people and building wells is a good way to get to vulnerable people who might be easily converted, then you're a hypocrite.

    One might equally take the view that it is better to have a well built by hypocrisy than no well at all. Which is why I think as atheists/humanists/freethinkers, it's desperately important that we also do good works, and that we do them openly, and talk about it, and why we're doing it: not for the glory of a god, but because we care about our fellow human beings.

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