Religious Convictions and Moral Motivation
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Adherence to certain religious beliefs is often cited as both an efficient deterrent to immoral behavior and as an effective trigger of morally praiseworthy actions. I assume the truth of the externalist theory of motivation, emphasizing emotions as the most important non-cognitive elements that causally contribute to behavioral choices. While religious convictions may foster an array of complex emotions in a believer, three emotive states are singled out for a closer analysis: fear, guilt and gratitude. The results of recent empirical studies are examined to evaluate the relative motivational efficiency of all three emotions, as well as the likely negative psychological side-effects of these affective states, such as aggression and depression. While an action motivated by fear of punishment can be seen as a merely prudential strategy, the reparatory incentive of a guilty subject and a desire to reciprocate of the one blessed by undeserved favors are more plausible candidates for the class of genuine moral reactions. The available evidence, however, does not warrant a conclusion that a sense of guilt before God or as a sense of gratefulness to wards God, may produce a statistically significant increase in the frequency of prosocial actions aimed at other humans.