Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, the study doesn’t say that… exactly. But it does show that non-religious persons are much less willing or able to forgive themselves or others than religious people.
…those who leave a religious tradition entirely (i.e., those who were religiously affiliated and no longer were at the time of the survey) are less likely to forgive themselves and others compared to those who stay in a religious tradition. What seems to matter in promoting forgiveness, then, is that a person adheres to a religion or denomination; on the whole, the religiously unaffiliated have less of a propensity to forgive.
Previous research has pretty well settled the notion that religious people are more forgiving of themselves and others than non-religious people, but this study wanted to understand what the mechanism of that forgiveness really is. The study identified three factors that contribute to the more forgiving nature of religious people, the degree to which you exhibit these factors as a religious person tends to determine how forgiving you will be of both yourself and others.
(1) one’s relational disposition toward God—in other words, beliefs about who God is, what God does, and the appropriate interactions a believer should have with God;
In other words, the degree to which you believe God is a loving, forgiving God (as opposed to an angry, spiteful God) has an impact on the level of forgiveness you display toward both yourself and others.
(2) the extent to which a person imitates God’s qualities and actions; and
Fairly self-explanatory. The more you feel you are obliged to treat others as God treats you (assuming point #1; i.e., that you think God is loving and forgiving) the more likely you are to be forgiving to yourself and others.
(3) the extent to which a person believes her religion (and therefore its injunctions and teachings) is or should be pervasive in life.
Also pretty straight-forward. The degree to which you see your religion as a blueprint for living as opposed to merely a path to personal enlightenment/reflection (as is the case with those who are “spiritual but not religious”), the more forgiving of yourself and others you will tend to be.
If these factors have a signficant impact on forgiveness levels, it also makes sense why non-religious people may have a harder time forgiving. For example, athiests like Richard Dawkins certainly don’t profess to believe (or even not believe) in a merciful, loving God. The God they reject is perceived to be pretty angry and spiteful. Because of that, they certainly don’t see the value in imitating what they perceive to be “God’s” immature, tantrumming behavior, and they therefore reject that any religion that worships such a God should have anything to do with life.
Not having a positive model for forgiveness or a more cohesive definition of what forgiveness looks like outside of their own experience, the non-believer would have a more difficult–if not impossible–challenging himself or herself to be as forgiving as a believer who is consistently challenged by a faith community to at least imagine that it is possible to be more forgiving than he or she has actually witnessed in his or her own life.
QUESTION: What offenses tend to be the hardest for you to forgive in yourself or others?
——Having difficulties forgiving the difficult people in your life? Check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People