Sunday, February 24, 2008

Belief and behavior

One of the central facts that Christians acknowledge is that we are sinners, both in commission and omission. Moreover, each of us knows non-religious individuals who live highly ethical lives - people of absolute integrity and people who display sacrificial altruism.

One of the frequent indictments of Christianity is that, in Christopher Hitchens's words, "religion poisons everything." He contends that it is perfectly possible to have ethics without religion and that, moreover, religious belief makes people worse. Logan Paul Gage at Touchstone responds to that and to this from Dawkins:
“There’s not the slightest evidence that religious people in a given society are any more moral than non-religious people.”
Gage reviews what the social sciences have to say about the social impact of religious belief.
Civic engagement—reading the newspaper and voting, for example—and participation in voluntary associations also increase with frequent church attendance. For every one voluntary association—like a civic club or PTO—among the non-religious, there are 2.4 such associations among those who attend religious services more than once per week.

Thus, Smith concludes: “Religious involvement is associated with, and probably promotes, civic engagement. . . . Those participating in a faith community are more likely to vote, belong to voluntary associations, and carry out altruistic acts than the nonreligious.”

The latter claim may seem presumptuous, but according to the 2002–2004 GSS, for every 100 altruistic acts—like giving blood or letting someone ahead of you in the checkout line—performed by nonreligious people, the religious perform 144.

.... Weekly church attendees volunteer more often in their communities, both through the church and through secular organizations.

The correlation is most striking among men. The volunteer rate for weekly-attending men is nearly ten percent higher than for weekly-attending women, whereas on the whole women volunteer much more than men. And while income has very little connection with volunteering, among those with higher incomes (i.e., a family income of $100,000 or more), weekly attendance noticeably correlates with volunteerism. ....

... For nearly 40 years, psychologists and sociologists have studied the connection between religion and various negative outcomes in adolescents. According to one meta-study (a study of the studies), 97 percent of studies found a negative relationship between religion and sexual activity; 94 percent claimed a negative link between alcohol use and religion; and 87 percent alleged a negative correlation between suicide and religion. ....

Using a sophisticated methodology, Pennsylvania State’s Jeffery Ulmer, Purdue’s Scott Desmond, and Baylor’s Christopher Bader tried to answer why religion tends to inhibit delinquency. Following psychological research showing that self-control is like a muscle, which will grow or atrophy with use or disuse, they concluded that religious observance inhibits deviant behavior in two ways: It increases individuals’ self-control, and it provides moral norms. Religious youth display higher self-control against cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana than their nonreligious peers.

In addition, religion significantly correlates with fewer violent crimes, school suspensions, and a host of other negative behaviors. [more]
I remember reading something like this once [I no longer remember where]: "If you were walking alone at night through a dangerous neighborhood and up ahead, walking toward you, was a boisterous group of young men, would your concerns be allayed if you knew they had just left a Bible study?" It seemed to me that the question answered itself.

Touchstone Archives: Staying Power

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.