In the following sections, we present findings from studies on the Protestant ethic hypothesis and self-control theory to provide theoretical support for our hypotheses.
2.1. From Predestination Effect to Purgatory Effect
Studies examining the relationship between Protestant beliefs and economic progress provide support for the existence of a negative effect of TAP belief on prosocial behavior. Most of these studies were based on Max Weber’s Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism thesis (Weber 1967
). Weber’s original thesis states that Protestant religious beliefs about the afterlife produce high motivation to work hard, save, invest and increase productivity (Weber 1967
). In his thesis, Weber focuses on the doctrine of Predestination in guiding the behavior of Calvinists. According to Calvin, God, since time immemorial, has chosen the people of Heaven and the people of Hell. Accordingly, the work of the faithful (which includes their worldly success) serves as a sign (not reason) of their eternal destiny. The current study adopts a modified version of the Weberian thesis, in which we suggest that the rejection of belief in TAP plays a more important role than belief in Predestination.
Studies citing the impact referenced by Weber found it in all Protestant denominations, while most of these denominations, including Calvinist denominations, no longer believe in Predestination as a cornerstone of their faith (Glaeser and Glendon 1998
). At the same time, however, they all agree with Calvinism in denying belief in TAP (Griffiths 2008
; Wrocawska-Warchala and Warchala 2015
). Recent studies suggest that the doctrine of Predestination is a theological doctrine and has never been a popular doctrine (Adair-Toteff 2018
). Historical studies indicate that Predestination was one of the first problematic and quick-to-decay religious beliefs among the followers of Calvinism (Slone 2007
; Wallace 2004
). Furthermore, recent studies found that in relation to (compared to) Augustine’s and even Aquinas’ prior versions of the doctrine of Predestination, Calvin’s doctrine appears as “nothing new under the sun in Christian theology” (Zafirovski 2018
Certain Weberian texts directly uphold the negative effect of TAP belief. The following text from the “Sociology of Religion” shows that, according to Weber, believing in TAP weakens the effect of afterlife punishment. Weber
“Intermediate realms of existence, such as those depicted in the teachings of Zoroaster or in the Roman Catholic conception of purgatory, realms encompassing punishments which would only be undergone for limited durations, could weaken the consistency of conceptions of eternal punishment”.
The following citation from Protestant Ethics indicates the existence of only two choices regarding the afterlife: torment or bliss, caused the Calvinists to possess high levels of self-control, unlike Catholics. According to Weber
“The God of Calvinism demanded of His believers not single good works, but a life of good works combined into a unified system. There was no place for the very human Catholic cycle of sin, repentance, atonement, release, followed by renewed sin. Nor was there any balance of merit for a life as a whole, which could be adjusted by temporal punishments or the Churches’ means of grace”.
Therefore, a Calvinist had only two choices: damnation or salvation. However, these two choices were encountered by all followers of Protestant denominations given their denial of the existence of TAP, not as a result of their belief in Predestination. Researchers suggest that the doctrine of TAP motivated hedonistic behaviors among followers of the Catholic community; specifically, when the doctrine evolved into the form of Indulgences (Ekelund et al. 1992
; Le Goff 1984
), leading to the perception of “play now and pay later” (Willis 2008
In terms of empirical studies, is there evidence of a relationship between belief in TAP and prosocial behavior? Blum and Dudley
) attempted to explain the reason for wage increases in European Protestant cities from 1500 to 1750 in comparison to wage declines in Catholic cities over the same period. The researchers developed a new theoretical model based on the idea that the doctrine of Predestination makes repentance more difficult as compared with the Catholic faith (Doctrine of Sacrament of Penance). The researchers suggest that incidence of breach of contract/defection in Protestant areas was lower than in Catholic areas. This was attributed to the fact that the Protestants viewed the cost of breach of contract as very high, i.e., eternal torment in hell. This facilitated the emergence of cooperative networks that contributed to economic development in Protestant cities. The researchers found that the proposed theologically-based model explained the economic data better than most of the known economic models. However, the researchers insist on linking the idea of the difficulty of repentance with the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination, in which other Protestant groups do not believe. We maintain, rather, that it is denial of TAP—a common thread among all Protestant denominations—that makes repentance difficult. Consequently, this (repentance difficulty) led to the restriction of breach of contracts among individuals, leading to an increase in cooperative networks, which in turn resulted in long-term economic improvement.
) re-examined the thesis of Weber and highlighted the contradiction in the doctrine of Predestination, which states that believers will be protected by God, and that the good deeds of the faithful do not contribute to such protection. According to Arrunada, even contemporaries of the 16th century found it difficult to be religious, and, at the same time, calling to good deeds makes no contribution to one’s salvation (Cameron 1991
as cited in Arrunada 2010
). Arrunada’s work further makes reference to the possible negative effect of the doctrine of TAP and indulgences. In his study, Arrunada
) argued that Protestantism encourages economic growth by motivating social ethic rather than work ethic as proposed by Weber. To test this hypothesis, the author used data collected in 1999 through the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) with 19,246 researchable observations for both Catholics and Protestants. The analysis showed that Protestants engage in more voluntary work, have less tolerance for tax evasion, less concealment of friends in breach of law, and more trust in strangers as compared to the Catholic sample. The results of the Arrunada study provide support for the hypothesis of the present study, implying a limited impact of the doctrine of Predestination. It points to a possible role of the adoption of the doctrine of Purgatory in discouraging social ethics, and that the reason for the superiority of Protestants in social ethics is their negation of the doctrine of Purgatory.
Arrunada’s study is not the first to conclude that Protestants perform more voluntary work than Catholics. The same conclusion was drawn by several previously conducted studies (Bekkers and Schuyt 2008
; Bekkers and Wiepking 2011
; Hoge and Yang 1994
; Hoge et al. 1998
; Zaleski and Zech 1994
). Lam’s study (2006) show that Protestants are more likely to hold membership in voluntary organizations than Catholics, while Catholic countries overall have lower voluntary organization membership rates than Protestant countries. Surprisingly, this difference increases with increased Catholic religious upbringing. The author proposes to interpret these findings in the name of “the effect of Catholics” instead of “the ethic of Protestants” (Lam 2006
). However, the author does not provide an explanation for the concept of the “effect of Catholics” that he proposes. We propose that the findings reflect the impact of TAP on prosocial behavior. The more one believes in the doctrine of purgatory, the less he becomes involved in voluntary work.
In the Islamic context, Sukidi
) studied the Muhammadiyah [sic: Muhammadian] Movement in Indonesia as a form of Protestantism in the Islamic renewal/reform movement. The Muhammadian is an Indonesian religious movement that originated in the early twentieth century. It succeeded in establishing an economic movement (especially in the batik industry) and improving the conditions of the societies in which it was active. Sukidi listed a number of similar attributes between the Muhammadiyah and the Protestant denomination, such as the importance of returning to sacred scripts to understand religion (2006). Sukidi cited several observations from the writings of the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who worked in the activity area of Muhammadiyah, the island of Java, during the 1950s. Geertz concluded that the Muhammadiyah movement was successful in establishing its own brand of capitalism (Geertz 1956
) quoted Ahmed Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, who stated: “We humans are given as a trust only one life in this world. After you die, will you be saved or be damned?” Sukidi considered Dahlan’s text as a reflection of the doctrine of Predestination adopted by the Calvinists. Was the founder of Muhammadiyah—as reflected in the above quote—referencing the doctrine of Predestination or a misinterpretation of TAP doctrine? We suggest that the text, despite its similarity with the Weberian description of Calvinism, denotes a rejection of the TAP doctrine rather than an endorsement of Predestination. According to Sukidi, Ahmad Dahlan was strongly influenced by the ideas of the Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905), especially his interpretive commentary of the Holy Quran, called Tafseer al Manaar
). In Tafseer al Manaar
, Abduh adopts a cautious stance regarding belief in TAP, pointing out the seriousness of misinterpreting this doctrine.
In his commentary, Abduh states that the misinterpretation of TAP doctrine has caused many Muslims to believe that they are destined for Paradise/Heaven regardless of whether they lived sinful lives or not. Based on this, it is likely that Dahlan was directly influenced by Abduh’s views on TAP and its effect on Muslim behavior. The Quran warns that the former nations (i.e., People of the Book) used TAP beliefs to avoid following certain commands from God (Quran 2: 80, 3: 24). Abduh, in Al-Manaar (edited by his disciple Syed Muhammad Rashid Rida 1865–1935) elaborated on the potential negative impact of TAP beliefs, Rida says:
Perhaps the intended meaning of the verse is that they–the Children of Israel- used to believe that if an Israeli is to be punished, the punishment is little, as many Muslims believe today. They say a Muslim sinner may either receive intercession, or be saved by expiation, or be granted pardon and forgiveness from the favor and generosity of Allah. If a Muslim missed all of that, he is to be tortured according to the sin, then exit Hell and enter Heaven... The Quran does not weigh according to a particular religion, but rather attributes salvation from Hell and achieving Heaven to good deeds, piety, virtuous ethics, faith and abandoning evil deeds, both seen and concealed. The Quran describes faith, signs of believers and their attributes. Forgiveness, in the Quran, is confined to the ones who are not encompassed with sin where their heart and feelings are soaked in that sin, thus satisfying lusts becomes their major passion. Religion has no power over them anymore, and those are the residents of Hell, in which they shall live eternally. This book of wisdom (Quran) condemns the ones who take religion only as a nationality as if being from a particular nation is a way to avoid Hell... They are in illusion, fabricating the words of Allah.
In addition to the above, the doctrine of Predestination includes the denial of free will. A series of psychological studies found a negative relationship between disbelief in free will and prosocial behavior (Baumeister and Brewer 2012
). Baumeister et al.
) introduced significant evidence that religion improves social life through calling for and exercising free will. Baumeister et al.
) conducted three experiments indicating that disbelief in free will contributes to lower aiding behaviors and increased aggressiveness. The results confirm Vohs and Schooler’s
) finding that exposing subjects to Predestination concepts encourages deception. A subsequent study by Stillman and Baumeister
) concluded that persons who do not believe in free will are less likely to learn moral lessons from their mistakes. This indicates that they are less likely to improve their behavior when they deviate from prescribed religious teachings. Therefore, the results of previous psychological studies support the hypothesis of our study, where it clearly indicates that the negation of free will (an important requirement of the doctrine of Predestination) has a negative impact on social behavior.
Finally, Max Weber
) suggested that the psychological mechanism of self-signaling could provide an explanation for the paradox between Calvinist belief in Predestination, on the one hand, and the willingness to be prosocial, on the other hand. Thus, even though one may believe that good deeds have no causal influence on whether one will go to heaven, Protestants may nevertheless perceive these good deeds as a signal that this is the type of behavior one would expect from a person who is saved. In a recent study by Van Elk and colleagues (Van Elk et al. 2017
), the researchers used a self-signaling task—measuring the extent to which Calvinist participants acted in a way to obtain positive information about themselves. The findings did not support the theoretical notion that the stronger pro-sociality by Calvinists compared to Catholics may work as a self-signaling function to boost one’s self-esteem (i.e., “I am elected or saved”). Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, the Catholics in the study tended to have a stronger motivation to portray a positive image of themselves than the Protestant subjects.
In sum, the non-engagement of the vast number of Protestant denominations in the doctrine of Predestination, the historical evidence of the decay of this doctrine among Calvinists, and the psychological evidence establishing the link between belief in free will with prosocial behavior, renders attribution of Protestants’ prosocial behavior to Predestination doubtful. Rather, the evidence provides support for a negative impact of the doctrine of purgatory on prosocial behavior.
2.2. TAP Effect: Self-Control Theory Perspective
Most religions promote self-control. In Islam, for example, derivatives of the root “sabr
”—to be patient—are mentioned over a hundred times in the Quran, including dozens of times in the imperative form. The Quran explicitly states that Allah loves those with patience (Quran 3: 146). Some sociologists—theoretically—predicted a positive relationship between religion and self-control as a result of believing in eschatological punishment and reward (Azzi and Ehrenberg 1975
). It seems logical that those believing in eschatological punishment for their worldly actions would show greater resistance to temptations (McCullough and Willoughby 2009
). Some researchers assert that belief in punishment and reward promotes faith in free will which, in turn, enhances self-control (Baumeister et al. 2010
). Studies that considered the relationship between religion and self-control suggest that one of the mechanisms through which religion promotes self-control is self-monitoring, which is the result of belief in afterlife reward and punishment (McCullough and Willoughby 2009
). A number of experimental and longitudinal studies showed a causal positive relationship between religion and self-control (Kim-Spoon et al. 2015
; Laurin et al. 2012
; Pirutinsky 2014
; Rounding et al. 2012
). While these studies failed to explain the mechanism by which religion impacts self-control, the authors suggested fear of divine punishment as a possible mechanism.
However, does self-control impact prosocial behavior? De Ridder et al.
) conducted a meta-analysis of publications on the impact of self-control on prosocial behavior. The report covered 102 published and unpublished studies conducted in the period between 2004 and 2009, with subjects totaling 32,648. The authors concluded that overall, self-control has a moderate effect on prosocial behavior. In addition, DeWall et al.
) found a positive causal relationship between self-control and prosocial behavior. These studies suggest that religion improves prosocial behavior by improving self-control, and that afterlife beliefs may be the most important factor in this relationship.
Studies support the role of afterlife beliefs in promoting prosocial behavior (Johnson 2005
). However, these studies show that the impact of afterlife beliefs varies based on belief details as well as God’s ability to know (Atkinson and Bourrat 2011
; McNamara et al. 2015
; Purzycki et al. 2016
). The current study suggests that belief in TAP may weaken prosocial behavior by weakening self-control. A person who believes in TAP while being confronted with the temptation to commit wrongdoing may decide to pay the cost of the salvation in the afterlife (purgatory), especially since the decision will not affect his eternal bliss (eventually entering heaven).
Some studies provide support for this hypothesis, for example, in a study on the context of physiological neuroscience, Good et al.
) noted that influencing 123 university students (Mormon) with the idea of a loving God reduced their sensitivity to error (tendency to taking alcohol). The researchers measured nerve signals in the brain regions that become active in the event of cognitive conflict (anterior cingulate cortex ACC). They found that these brain regions are less active in the group exposed to the idea of a loving God (Good et al. 2015
). This study suggests that the concept of supernatural reward and punishment has a direct impact on self-control mechanisms by affecting the anterior cingulate cortex that is associated with performance monitoring and affective responses to errors. Shariff and Rhemtulla
) found a positive relationship between belief in heaven and level of crime. Shariff and Norenzayan
) found that those who conceived of God as forgiving were more likely to commit cheating.
Surprisingly, some studies found that even criminals (who usually have low self-control) use a distorted version of afterlife beliefs (type of purgatory) to help them justify their criminal activities. Topalli et al.
) studied the religious beliefs of dangerous street criminals. The researchers interviewed 48 criminals and found that distorted eschatological reward and punishment beliefs helped the criminals to deal with their fear of death related to carrying out criminal activities. When the researchers told a criminal accused of murder (33 years) that the punishment for deliberate killing is infinite hell, he replied as follows:
“No, no, no, I do not think this is true. I mean, anything can be forgiven. We live in hell now, and you can do anything [murder] in hell. When this is all over ... we go there [to heaven] and the devil comes here. Only the devil lives in hell forever. God forgives everyone, even if they do not believe in him”.
To help better understand this issue, we posed the question, is there a difference in self-control between Catholics (belief in TAP) and Protestants (do not believe in TAP)? Weber stated that: “Self-control-usually accompanied by alertness, equableness, and serenity-was found among Confucians, Puritans, Buddhists and other types of monks, Arab sheiks, and Roman senators, as well as among Jews. However, the basis and significance of self-control were different in each case” (Weber 1965, p. 255
). In line with Weber’s statement, two recent experiments were conducted to measure the transgression of social norms among Protestants and Catholics. The results suggest that behavior regulation (self-control) is grounded in an internal source of control for Protestants, and in an external source of control (monitoring by an external authority) for Catholics (Quiamzade et al. 2017
Paglieri et al.
) looked into the impact of religious beliefs on self-control (delay of gratification). The study was conducted on university students, who were classified into four groups: Calvinist Dutch, Catholic Italian, atheist Italian and atheist Dutch. Level of self-control was measured through a temporal discounting method. Subjects could select between immediate small or deferred large financial awards. Researchers assumed that Predestination, which is adopted by the Calvinist Dutch, would make them the most patient among the four groups, as their beliefs would make them more cautious about punishment. Meanwhile, the researchers hypothesized that the guilt-confession-forgiveness beliefs adopted by the Catholic Italians would make them the least patient, given that their faith allows adherents an “escape” from punishment. The findings confirmed the assumptions made by the researchers. Dutch Calvinists were more willing to wait for monetary prizes than both Italian Catholics and Dutch atheists. Astonishingly, Italian Catholics were less tolerant of delay than the Italian atheists. We suggest that these findings can be interpreted from the perspective of the TAP hypothesis. It further indicates that limiting options between damnation and salvation increases the effectiveness of afterlife punishment on self-control in the face of temptation, which results in more prosocial behavior.
Falk et al.
) studied the global variation in patience (How willing are you to give up something that is beneficial for you today in order to benefit more from that in the future?) using an experimentally validated survey data set of 80,000 people from 76 countries. The study found that patience is positively correlated with pro-sociality and is strongly correlated with Protestantism. Middle Eastern and North African populations have in common relatively low levels of patience.
In summary, research findings show that religion impacts self-control and that the nature of afterlife beliefs determines the how and power of this impact. These studies provide support for our hypothesis that belief in TAP may weaken self-control and, subsequently, prosocial behavior.