I was recently averred the story of a man who enjoyed parting and hanging out with friends; a completely "normal guy". He fell in love with a Christian woman and was eventually "saved" at her church. That day, I am told, the young man changed forever. Gone were the nights of drink and party. Lost were the days of reminiscence of such things. He sold all he had and moved to Africa to do missionary work because "God told him" to.
Since hearing this, I've been pondering the effects of the live-changing decision of accepting a religion. I too was once a "born-again" Christian, and once you accept the religion God gets credit for everything you feel you're doing right anyway. I began to wonder about this young man. Is it possible that he would have decided to do charity work without Christianity?
It occurs to me that several contributing factors might be at work here -- nothing supernatural of course. That particular religion is well versed in the art of applying culpability, afflicting its followers with a deep-seated sense of guilt and shame. One must also consider the state of things in the young man's life that led him to accept the religion in the first place. For many in such a position, one question to ask yourself would be, "am I doing good things...am I a good person?" The mind struggles with self-redemption, speaking from experience. For most people this is perhaps the first time they've ever studied this question. And since they are now under the banner of a specific religion, with specific models of virtue, a choice such as "follow Jesus" is generally high up on the list.
I am not criticizing the young man for giving up his life selflessly to help others (though I wonder about the true motives and indeed the work itself). We should do good for goodness sake, not to earn the rewards of a deity or because voices in our heads tell us too.