Divine Forgiveness and Human Support for State-Sanctioned Punishment


  • Katherine M. O'Lone Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ryan T. McKay Royal Holloway, University of London




punishment, forgiveness, God concepts, prosociality, priming


Laurin et al. 2012b found that beliefs in powerful Gods (both in general and when made salient) reduce people's endorsement of state-sanctioned punishment. Here we investigate whether the specific manner in which a powerful God responds to moral infractions (via forgiveness or punishment) influences people's endorsement of state-sanctioned punishment. Across four studies, we explored whether endorsement of state-sanctioned punishment is increased a) when participants are primed with the notion of a forgiving (cf. punitive) God (Studies 1 & 2) and b) when beliefs in a forgiving God are made salient (Studies 3a & 3b). A forgiving God might lead people to view punishment as their responsibility rather than one to be outsourced to God. Our results revealed no evidence for effects of forgiving God primes or salient forgiving God beliefs on endorsement of state-sanctioned punishment. However we did find that both forgiving and punishing God beliefs, when salient, were significant predictors of endorsement of state-sanctioned punishment in response to a victim-directed transgression. We discuss the implications of these findings for extant theories of religious prosociality. In particular, we suggest that existing accounts of human prosociality and cooperation have underestimated the role of divine forgiveness in favour of a focus on divine punishment.

Author Biographies

Katherine M. O'Lone, Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Holloway, Dept. of Psychology PhD Student

Ryan T. McKay, Royal Holloway, University of London

Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London Senior Lecturer


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How to Cite

O’Lone, K. M., & McKay, R. T. (2019). Divine Forgiveness and Human Support for State-Sanctioned Punishment. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 4(2), 155–184. https://doi.org/10.1558/jcsr.34356