God Is Watching You But Also Watching Over You: The Influence of Benevolent God Representations on Secular Volunteerism Among Christians

Kathryn Johnson, Adam Cohen, Morris A. Okun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


One prominent theory is that prosociality is promoted by the belief in an authoritarian God. Building upon this theory, we developed a theoretical model in which beliefs about the self and the world and volunteer motives account for differential effects of benevolent and authoritarian God representations on secular volunteerism (benefiting those outside the family or religious group). This model was tested with undergraduate (Study 1) and community samples (Study 2) of Christian theists. In support of our model, representations of a benevolent God were positively associated with a benevolent self-identity and a moral obligation, with a significant total positive indirect effect on secular volunteerism via internal motivations. In contrast, representations of an authoritarian God were associated with a low benevolent self-identity and a significant total negative indirect effect on secular volunteerism. The effects of God representations on volunteerism via religious obligation and external motivation (eternal rewards) were inconsistent across samples. (PsycINFO Database Record

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
StateAccepted/In press - Jul 27 2015



  • God representation
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Supernatural punisher
  • Volunteerism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Religious studies

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