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Saturday, October 31, 2020

The new trinity of religious moral character: the Cooperator, the Crusader, and the Complicit

S. Abrams, J. Jackson, & K. Gray
Current Opinion in Psychology 2021, 


Does religion make people good or bad? We suggest that there are at least three distinct profiles of religious morality: the Cooperator, the Crusader, and the Complicit. Cooperators forego selfishness to benefit others, crusaders harm outgroups to bolster their own religious community, and the complicit use religion to justify selfish behavior and reduce blame. Different aspects of religion motivate each character: religious reverence makes people cooperators, religious tribalism makes people crusaders, and religious absolution makes people complicit. This framework makes sense of previous research by explaining when and how religion can make people more or less moral.


• Different aspects of religion inspire both morality and immorality.

• These distinct influences are summarized through three profiles of moral character.

• The ‘Cooperator’ profile shows how religious reverence encourages people to sacrifice self-interest.

• The ‘Crusader’ profile shows how religious tribalism motivates ingroup loyalty and outgroup hostility.

• The ‘Complicit’ profile shows how religious absolution allows people to justify selfish behavior.

From the Conclusion

Religion and morality are complex, and so is their relationship. This review makes sense of religious and moral complexity through a taxonomy of three moral characters — the Cooperator, the Crusader, and the Complicit — each of which is facilitated by different aspects of religion. Religious reverence encourages people to be cooperators, religious tribalism justifies people to behave like crusaders, and religious absolution allows people to be complicit.