“Believers live longer and are healthier
“Believers are more likely to be happy.
“Believers are less likely to commit crime.
“Is the faith good for society? The answer can only be, yes—assuming that it is in society’s interest to encourage quality of life, enhanced health, happiness, coping, less crime, less depression and other such benefits ubiquitously documented to be associated with religious involvement. And most people, secular or religious, would say that it sure is.” Mary Eberstadt
Is Christianity Good for Society?
In this excerpt from the new book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, the author examines a question that is at the foundation of the culture war.
Mary Eberstadt, Citizen magazine, June/July 2013, p. 26-28
For years now, as Citizen readers know, Christianity has been taking a beating in the American public square. The new atheists have reviled the faith as antiquated, oppressive, and superstitious. An aggressive secularist minority has berated it with increasing vehemence (and success) for being out of step with the sexual revolution. Debates over same-sex marriage, especially, have reached new rhetorical lows, with religious believers often disparaged by their opponents as “extremists,” “homophobes” and other bullying epithets intended to marginalize people of faith.
Are these adversaries right? Is Christianity really a net minus for society?
There’s a great irony lurking in the answer to that question. For though caricatures of_ Christianity and Christians themselves may be dominating the public square right now, empirical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. The truth is that both believers and unbelievers have a stake in having believers do what they do—and the data that affirm this truth come not from theologians and family-firsters, but rather from a source that even the bitterest enemies of Christianity cannot contest: namely, unimpeachable and perfectly secular social science.
Let’s count just a few of the ways. Believers give more to charity. Consider for starters the “charity gap” between believers and non-believers.
In the U.S., 91 percent of people who identify themselves as religious conservatives are likely to give to charity, as opposed to 67 percent of those who do not so identify themselves. They alsp volunteer at a rate 10 points higher than the general population. People who pray every day are 30 percent more likely to give to charity than people who never pray.
They recover more quickly from ominous life events-— including bereavement, divorce, unemployment ana! serious illness. Religious people are also less likely to get depressed, to become addicted to alcohol or drugs or to commit suicide. Apparently, having God as one’s co-pilot reduces the likelihood of self-destructive activities in the cockpit.
Believers are less likely to commit crime. Especially compelling evidence for this claim appears, in a landmark book published in 2010 by Baylor University sociologist Byron Johnson called More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How it Could Matter More. Johnson examined all the studies of the effect of religiosity on crime conducted between 1944 and 2010—a total of 273 different works. His conclusion is that 90 percent of the time, more religion is associated with less crime—and that the sheer number of studies confirming that finding in different ways more than offsets methodological quarrels about what exactly is causing what.
The late evangelical Christian Chuck Colson also affirmed this link based on his extensive work via Prison Fellowship with actual inmates. Citing the comparison of prisoners who graduated the Fellowship’s ‘TnnerChange Freedom Initiative” in Texas with others who did not, Colson pointed to the fact that “after two years the postrelease re-incarceration rate is 8 percent for our graduates against 20.3 percent for the matched comparison group.” “We’ve been right all along,” Colson concluded. “The Gospel changes lives, and it’s the best hope for keeping men and women out of prison.”
Believers contribute to “social capital.” Or consider another way in which believers are a net plus for society: They’re more social.
One of the most influential contemporary examinations of the state of civic America is Robert D. Putnam’s 200(Xbook, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. In , it, the author repeatedly counts the ways in which religious believers contribute to the social realm.
“Religious worshippers … are much more likely than other persons to visit friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong to sports groups; . professional and academic societies; school service groups; youth groups; service clubs; hobby or garden clubs; literary, art, discussion, and study groups; school fraternities and sororities; farm organizations; political clubs; nationality groups; and other Miscellaneous groups.”
In American Grace, Putnam and David E. Campbell report that “deeply religious people are, in fact, more generous in terms of their own giving and volunteering for social service, so in this sense religious people seem to walk the walk.” Believers also have greater marital stability and report higher levels of marital satisfaction.
In conclusion, it bears repeating as often as is necessary: Christianity is no monolith built of saints. To paraphrase St. Paul, where there is grace, sin has also been known to ” abound.
But if one were to treat contemporary Christianity as a numbers game, one would bet on believers to deliver more of what the citizenry seems to need most. Is the faith good for society? The answer can only be, yes—assuming that it is in society’s interest to encourage quality of life, enhanced health, happiness, coping, less crime, less depression and other such benefits ubiquitously documented to be associated with religious involvement. And most people, secular or religious, would say that it sure is. ■
Mary Eberstadt Is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, B.C., and author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, released in April by Tempkton Press. This essay has been adapted from the booh.