One of the most well-known parables in the Bible is the account of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus, in a response to the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” describes a situation in which a man has been robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious leaders of Israel – a Priest and a Levite – disregard the man on their journey to the Temple, but a Samaritan stopped, wrapped up his wounds, paid for a room, and nursed him back to health. Some have defended the religiousleaders by suggesting their minds were simply attuned to the religious duties or spiritual matters of the temple, making it difficult to be distracted by someone in need.
In the 1970’s, Darley and Batson attempted to recreate the Good Samaritan parable to determine if people would stop and help or walk by an injured man. The researchers had three hypotheses they tested for:
- People thinking religious, “helping” thoughts would still be no more likely than others to offer assistance.
- People in a hurry will be less likely to offer aid than others.
- People who are religious in a Samaritan fashion will be more likely to help than those of a priest or Levite fashion. In other words, people who are religious for what it will gain them will be less likely than those who value religion for its own value or are searching for meaning in life.[i]
The researchers recruited seminary students to participate in a religious experiment. After initial personality testing, the students were divided into two groups, each tasked with preparing a presentation to deliver to their classmates. The topic the first group was assigned was “seminary jobs”, while the other group was given the topic of the Good Samaritan parable. The other significant variable was that some were told they were late for the presentation; others were instructed they had a few minutes to stroll over to class.