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Keywords:

  • Christianity;
  • evolution;
  • moral elevation;
  • sacrifice;
  • saints;
  • stories;
  • traditions;
  • visual arts

Abstract This paper combines the social psychology concept of moral elevation with the evolutionary concept of traditions as descendant-leaving strategies to produce a new explanation of the role of saints in Christianity. Moral elevation refers to the ability of prosocial acts to inspire people to engage in their own acts of charity and kindness. When morally elevating stories and visual depictions become traditional by being passed from one generation to the next, they can produce prosocial behavior advantageous to survival and reproduction among many generations of descendants. Traditions that increase the number of descendants in future generations can be seen as descendant-leaving strategies. Stories and visual depictions of the sacrifices of saints appear to be designed to produce states of moral elevation, and they have been transmitted from one generation to the next for many centuries. We propose that this ability of sacrificing saints to inspire future generations to engage in prosocial acts has contributed to the continuation and spread of Christianity.