Does a religious person (Jew, Christian, or Muslim) ever do any good simply because it is the right thing to do, and not just because they're either hoping for divine reward, trying to avoid divine retribution, or trying to win converts ?
Do they feed the poor simply because it is right without regard to reward or winning converts ? Do they visit the lonely and the elderly simply because it is the right thing to do without regard to reward or winning converts ? Do they build hospitals simply because they want to help the sick and diseased without regard to reward or winning converts ?
Which is better, to do good only because it is right, or because you are hoping to avoid divine displeasure and win converts ?
Any thoughts on the matter ?
I think it's a mix, Anthony. There are people out there, Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists who see a need and are moved to act on that need. It would not surprise me at all to find that their attitudes and motivations are genuine and driven by empathy. There are also just as surely those who have been frightened or intimidated or indoctrinated into the same action, because they believe their god demands such action of them and that they need to impoverish themselves to please said god. Obviously (I HOPE!) you can leave atheists out of that second category.
I think further study would have to be done to look at the driving forces behind the actions, and it may be that such study has been done or is in process. I'd be dubious of a purely black-and-white result.
As Loren said, I think it is a mix. I would venture to say that most people do good acts for basically three reasons, all of which don't require religion: 1) good parents have taught their kids how to be good citizens in the community in which they live. 2) we have an innate sense of empathy for others who are in troubled or impoverished situations. 3) It feels good and rewarding to help others.
Some people may claim religion as their motivator to perform acts of kindness, but over time most of us (hopefully) have learned the simple lesson that it pays not to be a "dick."
Interesting question and well stated, I think.
I know, and have known, christians, jews, and buddhists who I think are just good-hearted people. I don't think it's because of religious reasons. They're just kind, responsible, generous, empathetic, nurturing people.
Included in that are my late parents. They were believers. They wanted to do the right thing. They took care of people around them, and in the family, and neighbors, and friends. I don't think it was because of religion.
In some ways, this is a different way of stating what has been on other threads. There is good, and bad, that comes from people who are religious and from people who are nonreligious. I've known some really mean, vile christians and some mean, vile atheists. There are writings, too, that come from religious people, with or without religion as their inspiration, that can be worth reading. That does not justify religion, but to me shows that the light of thought and reason tries to shine through regardless of whatever background a person comes from.
As for what is better to do, good because it's right, or to avoid divine displeasure, obviously (to me) it's to to good for what's right. That's a religious paradox. If the god really wants followers who are "good", then it's best for him (bible god is masculine) to never reveal himself, and see which people are innately good.
Just as a matter of geography (upstate South Carolina), almost everyone I know is a fundamentalist young earth creationist evangelical Southern Baptist. And they are almost all pretty decent people. The good they do seems to largely outweigh the bad, at least until it enters the realm of politics. I could posit that the good they do is despite rather than because of their religion, but I wouldn't find many who agree.
Many of them truly want to do good, and really do (excepting some glaring contradictions), and most would attribute that impulse to their faith. I think that they sell themselves short, but that's just my opinion. I find a few, but not many, who see their actions as some 'grand bargain' with their god, and who actually claim that benevolent acts derive only from God, and that humans left to their own devices are inherently evil. By extension, for those who choose to think about it, any action that is not supernaturally derived (like science) is seeded with evil. That results in the tragedy (again, just my assessment) of indoctrinating their children to believe that they are inherently incapable of anything decent without first passing it through the filter of God.
Good things still get done -- helping the select unfortunate, etc., but not so good things like homophobia, racism, misogyny, support for reactionary politics, etc., get carried along for the ride. Every single one of these Good Christians with whom I've talked unflinchingly backs all of the hard right-wing positions in US politics, including (frighteningly) the belief that the US is bound by biblical prophesy to precipitate Armageddon and thus assure the return of Christ. This is a recipe for murder on a massive scale, and entirely consistent with the 'loving' message espoused by local churches.
So where lies the balance? I see my good neighbors helping one another in most of their daily interactions while passively promoting or at least ignoring the most heinous doctrines imaginable. In watching the situation, I often recall Chris Hitchens' remark that 'religion poisons everything'. The good that these good people do could be so much better if they could discard their gods and simply do it because it's right in their own unclouded eyes.
"Many of them truly want to do good, and really do (excepting some glaring contradictions), and most would attribute that impulse to their faith. I think that they sell themselves short, but that's just my opinion."
That's my opinion, as well.
Yes, though it is not universal, kindness does indeed exist among the religious.
I know Christians that fall in both categories and I'm sure it goes for Jews and Muslims also.