09 January 2012

Study on American Religion and the Community

To hear many anti-religious folks hear it, those who belong the religious organizations are a major drain on society.  The religious (especially Christians) are destroying society by spewing their religious dogmas.  Communities would be better without the religious.  An interesting recent study by Pew Research tends to bring this idea into question. The link above goes to a CNN story with some interesting comments.  Here is a link to the actual survey titled "The Civic and Community Engagement of Religiously Active Americans."

Highlights of the study included the following statistics:

Those people who are not involved in religious groups are involved in an average of 2.11 community groups, while those who belong to a religious group are involved in 5.61 community organizations.

45% of those who belong to a religious organization view their community as an excellent place to live, while only 34% of those who are not religious do.

Those  in religious groups spend 7.5 hours a week in group activities, compared to about 5.4 hours for those not so affiliated.  Whether or not attendance at religious services count in this number was not discussed, and would be interesting to know.

College graduates are more likely to belong to religious organizations (which brings the question of the ignorant, superstitious church member into question).

One of the more interesting statistics involves the other types of organizations to which the religious belong.  Religious Americans are more likely to belong to organizations related to art and culture, as well as labor unions and environmental groups, than are the non-religious.

Politically, the religious Americans trended conservative, but the conservatives vs moderate/liberal divide was about even--around 50% conservative vs. 50% moderate/liberal.

While there are notable philanthropists among the atheist/agnostic crowd (i.e. Bill Gates), the numbers are nonetheless telling.  The link above from CNN does not go into causation, but it does indicate a strong correlation between being religious and activity in the community.  It seems to suggest that people who belong to religious organizations just like to belong to groups.  However, I would suggest that perhaps the command to love other people as yourself leads people to have concern for the well-being of their communities. 

Another important point that the study made was that those belonging to religious organizations tend to have a better outlook on their communities and on their ability to enact positive change.  This would probably relate to a general hope for the future.  Religious people (especially Christians) tend to believe that it's ultimately going to get better based upon their religious beliefs.  Those who are atheist/agnostic claim to think  people will get better as humanity evolves (which brings into question the reasons for their apparent pessimism), but they apparently don't want to help that process along.  Regardless, this study would suggest that a religiously active community would be a better community.

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