Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Why Religious Americans Make Better Citizens

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: Spirituality, chuch and state, religion, congregations, community, activism, civic engagement, Robert Putnam, David Campbell, Christian Century,

Religious Americans are up to four times more likely to be active in their communities than nonreligious Americans—and the link is causal, according to new research from Robert Putnam and David Campbell. The scholars have observed increases in civic involvement that come after individuals join a religious group.

“The reason for the increased civic engagement may come as a surprise to religious leaders,” the Christian Century writes. “It has nothing to do with ideas of divine judgment or with trying to secure a seat in heaven. Rather, it’s the relationships that people make in their churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that draw them into community activism. . . . The theory is if someone from your ‘moral community’ asks you to volunteer for a cause, it’s really hard to say no.”

Source: Christian Century

 

kit kellison
8/19/2009 2:16:08 PM

Yes, it's dangerous to take a little bit of information and make sweeping judgments. Not only do we need to know how this study was sampled, we'd need to see the questions asked to participants and how the conclusions were made. This goes for any kind of study; sociological, medical, etc. Look at the entire study (not just the abstract) in order to see whether good conclusions were made. Um, one thing that is always hard to determine and should always be made clear: How the study was funded. Just sayin.'


ashleyjohnmorton
8/18/2009 3:59:57 PM

I definitely think that elGeo has this right - what this really demonstrates is that most of us social humans (by which I mean almost all of us) need social connections in order to help us be our best selves. If you leave me alone in my apartment, I will likely eat an entire bag of chips, drink a beer or two and play computer games. However, get me out with my sports teams (or even at work - I've got a great workplace), and the next thing I know, I'm signed up to coach the kids' team, or sit on the "immigrant workers' concerns" committee. The decline and fall of traditional casual civil society (the bowling leagues, etc. that elGeo highlighted from the author's previous book) is well documented. In fact, it is exactly these organisations that often assisted (encouraged, pushed, cajoled) citizens to be contributory WITHOUT having any religious element to why they were doing these good things. These days, the churches (mosques, synagogues...) are some of the only places people are still encouraged to be better people. The Elks or the softball team would do it, but no one goes there anymore... If the active secular folk reading this want to contradict the potential religious claim from this research that religion makes you better, then stop being so bloody selfish, and get out there to make your (Lions club, darts league, arts council, motorcycle club, political party, activist crew, swimming team...) stronger. Then you'll have an argument.


shokd
8/13/2009 10:57:09 AM

The religious are more involved in their communities alright. Participants are either, A, the predatory, using their "beliefs" and those of their wooly counter parts to wrangle support for their businesses, and political goals, nad personal success. Or they're, B, the sheeple who buy into whatever nonsense is presented to them on blind faith alone, either in money, or time, or physical labor, or all of the above. I'm plenty involved in my community, one program or another; however, when any religious zealot- type A or B- comes around, I usually find another community activity to engage in.


johnnytee46
8/11/2009 4:16:52 PM

I myself don't believe in a supreme being. But I live by the 10 commandments probably better then most religious people. Saying your an atheist almost has the stigma of being gay.I know more guys that can tell the worst off color jokes, but claim they are Christian. I feel you walk the walk totally or your no better then us sinners.I'm a member of my HOA board. I'm on a tennis team. I haven't killed any abortion doctors lately. I don't believe in war and I think we need to help the less fortunate. For some reason those don't seem to be christian values anymore. I'll match my moral value with anybody.


elgeo
8/11/2009 3:10:19 PM

@Patti: I don't think the authors are saying that religious people are more moral than non-religious people; the reference to 'moral community' sounds to me more like 'shared-value community' than 'better-than-others community'. Besides, the study author Robert Putnam implies that it's not the morality, it's the community that matters. In his earlier book he laments the decline of bowling leagues, PTAs, and Elks clubs. I think that all he is claiming here is that religious organizations have filled the gap left by the bowling leagues. After all, he does say that the people who attend church regularly but have few connections "look more like secularists than like fellow believers when it comes to civic participation."


joe price
8/11/2009 2:23:00 PM

Unfortunately, the article conflates quality and quantity. "Better" citizens are only the ones who are more civically active? What about the ones who know when it's time to sit still and be quiet?


joe price
8/11/2009 2:22:42 PM

Unfortunately, the article conflates quality and quantity. "Better" citizens are only the ones who are more civically active? What about the ones who know when it's time to sit still and be quiet?


patti
8/11/2009 2:12:21 PM

The claim in this article indicates a huge leap in logic. I am particularly suspicious of claims like this in view of the increasing fascism in the US. The growing fundamentalism among American religions, which generally tend to be less tolerant of non-believers, and others condemned by scripture (atheists, gays, pro-choice folks, Muslims, and others) hardly fits any definition of "moral." Let's not even mention the cause of many global conflicts, whose roots lay in fundamentalist religion. While I have no doubt that the religious participants of the study may well in fact volunteer, serve on boards, etc., to make the claim that religious people are more moral than non-religious seems a bit insidious, and certainly is counter to my experience. I suspect there may be a strong religious bias in the conductors of the study.


carrespondent_2
8/11/2009 2:11:32 PM

When religious people get active in the community, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing. Good: Food pantries, clothing drives, visiting the sick Bad: Burning crosses, bashing gays, banning birth control


dochumboldt
8/11/2009 2:11:04 PM

Where did they go to study the "non-religious" survey sample?