The opportunity and challenge of faith-based civic engagement
Those veterans of my blog know I often include research about the good and bad influence of faith, religion and spiritual activities. Some expert social commentators like Rosie O'Donnell, indict committed Christians as being equally dangerous as Islamic Radical Terror Groups. It would be good to put her theory and claims to the test.
A lot of research is done by community groups and academics to see what kinds of things are good or bad for society. And, as a matter of fact, they often find that the issues and items that media talking heads and some preachers find so dangerous are not dangerous at all. Some of them are actually benign or positive contributors to our social order.
The activities, organizations and efforts that are valuable to our nation are considered to build our "Social Capital" and are important aspects of the "Social Glue" that makes America great and strong. Religion and spiritual practices are among the most important positive factors in making America a great Democracy.
Below is the research on Social Capital.
Religious involvement is an important dimension of civic life in most American communities. This is especially true in the South and Midwest. (As rough rule of thumb, religiosity declines with distance from the Mississippi River.)
Moreover, at a time when the nation is actively discussing President Bush's new Office of Faith Based Programs, these data are particularly relevant. However, as we noted in Better Together, "For all that faith organizations contribute to community life, organized religion is – and always has been – controversial, especially when it spills out from behind the church doors and into the public sphere. Religion can heal divisions, to be sure, but it can also exacerbate them. Religious exhortations can reduce tensions, but also increase them." It is against this backdrop that the survey casts light.
Even without the Bush administration's push, American faith-based participation and affiliation is widespread. Eighty eight percent of the national respondents reported some religious affiliation and 84% of national sample agreed somewhat or agreed strongly that religion was very important in their lives. Lower levels of respondents were actually members: 58% of national sample were members of a local church, synagogue or other religious or spiritual community. Some forty five percent of national respondents reported religious almost weekly or more frequently.
Throughout, blacks showed greater religiosity than whites ; Hispanics showed greater religious affiliation and church attendance than whites but lower levels of membership and lower levels of participation in religious activities outside of services.
Interestingly, 91% of blacks, 93% of Hispanics, 88% of whites report religious affiliation versus. While 51% of blacks, 48% of Hispanics and 43% of whites attended religious services weekly or more often.
Sixty four percent of blacks in the national sample were members of religious communities (churches) vs. 59% of whites and 43% of Hispanics.
Participation in religious activities other than services: 47% of blacks, 41% of whites and 31% of Hispanics.
Younger respondents (18-34 years of age) were far less likely to be Protestants than respondents older than they were, and far more likely to be everything else (including expressing no religious affiliation).
Younger respondents were also far less likely to be frequent attenders than older respondents: only 34% aged 18-34 attended religious services weekly or more often vs. 59% of respondents 65 and older.
What is the impact of this religious engagement?
Involvement in communities of faith among all goers collectively is strongly associated with giving and volunteering. Indeed, involvement in religious community is among the strongest predictors of giving and volunteering for religious causes as well as for secular ones. Religious communities embody one of the most important sources of social capital and concern for community in America. Religious people are great at "doing for others."
Moreover, religious involvement is positively associated with most other forms of civic involvement. Holding other factors constant, religiously engaged people are more likely than religiously disengaged people to be involved in civic groups of all sorts, to vote more, to be more active in community affairs, to give blood, to trust other people (from shopkeepers to neighbors), to know the names of public officials, to socialize with friends and neighbors, and even simply to have a wider circle of friends.
Interestingly as well, Americans are more likely to fully trust people at their place of worship (71%) than they are to trust people they work with (52%), people in their neighborhood (47%) or people of their own race (31%). Another distinctive feature of religious involvement is that it leads to less bias on social standing than most other forms of civic involvement.
Poorer, less educated Americans are much less likely to be involved in community life than other Americans, but they are fully as engaged in religious communities.
Conversely, religiously engaged people have, on average, a more diverse set of friends than those who are less engaged in religion. Holding constant their own social status, religiously engaged people are more likely than other Americans to number among their friends a person of a different faith, a community leader, a manual worker, a business owner, and even a welfare recipient.
Say, Rosie, what do you think in light of these facts?