CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

This relates to my Want a Good Marriage? post which was prompted by a commentor who argued that Christianity offered nothing based on his dubious representations of social science data, including the erroneous claim that Christians had the same divorce rate as everyone else. That is not the case, as Christians have lower divorce rates than the national average and Christians who attend church regularly have dramatically lower divorce rates.

Another social benefit of Christianity is its promotion of charitable giving. As Jonathan Haidt, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, notes, “surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people.” (emphasis added).

Dr. Haidt is an atheist. As he states in this November 2007 interview, ”I'm an atheist, I don't believe that gods actually exist, but I part company with the New Atheists because I believe that religion is an adaptation that generally works quite well to supress [sic] selfishness, to create moral communities, to help people work together, trust each other and collaborate towards common ends.”

Unfortunately, other atheists and skeptics seem intent on ignoring the positive influence of religion. This can be a challenging task, because Hadit's conclusion that religion promotes charitable giving is backed up to large extent by data showing that American Christians out-give their Nonreligious counterparts by significant margins. The margins grow even more dramatic when you compare regular attending Christians with the Nonreligious.

Christians Are More Likely to Give and Give More


The following data comes from the General Social Survey, 1998. It is reported with analysis in Passing the Plate, by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson, whose central argument is -- ironically -- that Christians do not give enough. The first percentage is by religious self-identification and the one in parenthesis is for regular attenders within their respective categories.

Percentage of persons giving nothing to charity in the previous year:

22.1 (4.5), Christian.
11.5 (5.6), Fundamentalist.
4.4 (less than 1), Evangelical.
12.6 (3.8), Mainline Protestant.
28.2 (7.8), Catholic.
50.5, Nonreligious.

Percentage of income donated by average giver:
2.9 (6.2), Christian.
6.2 (8.3), Fundamentalist.
8.2 (9.5), Evangelical.
4.6 (7.1), Mainline Protestant.
1.8 (3.7), Catholic.
0.7, Nonreligious.

Passing the Plate, page 30 (Source: General Social Survey, 1998).

Christians in the United States are far more likely to give to charity and give a far greater percentage of their income to charities than nonreligious Americans. But even among Christians the giving is not the same. Evangelicals are much more likely to give and will give far more than their fellow Christian Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and even Fundamentalists. For all categories of Christians, giving increases significantly for regular attenders.

Christians Give More Across the Board


I have heard atheists respond that this is an artificial measure of generosity because Christians are giving to their churches and religious organizations. This contention fails on its face because we are measuring a willingness to give one’s own money to foster the greater good. To an atheist, that may be “Americans United for the Separation of Church and States” and for the Christian it is more likely to be their own church or other religious institutions. Moreover, churches engage in direct charitable activities beyond Sunday sermons. Most churches provide counseling services and lend their facilities and resources to other charitable efforts, including facility use to organizations such as AA or the Boy Scouts. Here in LA, many churches provide the use of their facilities to shelter and feed the homeless.

Additionally, there are many charities whose focus is on providing material assistance to the poor and disadvantaged that are religious organizations, such as the Salvation Army. My wife and I for example try and make sure we give to poverty relief and disaster assistance efforts and the Salvation Army is our charity of choice for that purpose. The Salvation Army is the second largest charity in the United States. Other explicitly religious charities rounding out Forbe’s Top Ten list are Feed the Children, the YMCA, and Catholic Charities. There is no basis for excluding these and similar charities from the definition of charitable giving even if one is determined to exclude churches themselves.

Finally, even if we ignore all religious giving by the religious and measure giving only to secular charities we find that the religious are still significantly more likely to give, and will on average give more, than their Nonreligious counterparts.

In 2000, 68 percent of households gave money to charities having no religious affiliation. Fifty-one percent volunteered for secular causes.... But these high nonreligious giving levels were not the same for religious people and secularists. Although the charity gap between these groups was not as wide in secular giving as it was in all types of giving, religious people were still 10 points more likely than secularists to give money to nonreligious charities such as the United Way (71 to 61 percent), and 21 points more likely to volunteer for completely secular causes such as the local PTA (60 to 39) percent. In addition, the value of the average religious household’s donations to nonreligious charities was 14 percent higher than the average secular household’s.

Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares, page 39 (Source, Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, 2000).

Moving beyond religious identification we find that the higher the commitment to one’s religious faith the more one is likely to give to secular charities. As Brooks explains, people who regularly prayed were 16% more likely to give to secular charities than people who do not pray. Church members were 18% more likely than nonmembers. And people who “put a great deal of effort to their spirituality” were 28 % more likely to give to secular charities than people who made “no effort.” Brooks, op. cit., page 215, n. 14 (Source, Arts and Religious Survey 1999).

Christians Are More Charitable in Informal Ways

Another objection I have encountered is that the nonreligious are more skeptical of organized charities, but are more likely to help in informal ways, such as giving money to friends in need or other acts of generousity and kindness that do not register in these surveys. Not true. “People who give away their time and money to established charities are far more likely than nongivers to behave generously in informal ways as well. If we consider all forms of generosity, the difference between charitable and selfish people grows.” Brooks, op, cit., page 5.

First let’s examine gifts to family and friends.

Here, too secularists lag behind religious people. For example, data from 2000 on informal giving tell us that people belonging to religious congregations were 8 percent more likely to give money to family and friends than people who did not belong. Furthermore, the value of their informal gifts was, on average, 46 percent higher.

Brooks, op. cit., page 39 (Source, Giving and Volunteering in the U.S., 2000).

Second, how about other acts of charity or kindness that might not register in traditional surveys about giving.

The story is the same even when it comes to informal acts of kindness to others. In 2002, religious people were far more likely to donate blood than secularists, to give food or money to a homeless person, to return change mistakenly given them by a cashier, and to express empathy for less fortunate.

Brooks, op. cit., page 39 (Source, GSS 2000).

Whatever the measure of charity, apparently, the Christians and the Religious in the United States dramatically out give the Nonreligious.

Conclusion

Around 78% of Christians give to charity whereas around 49.5% of the Nonreligious do. Further, Christians give four times more to charity than the Nonreligious. Evangelicals are close to twice as likely to give, and give more than eleven times more, to charity than the Nonreligious. If we look at these groups by those who regularly attend church events, the disparity is even more dramatic. Almost all Evangelicals who attend church regularly give to charity, compared, again, with less than 50% of the Nonreligious. Regularly-attending Evangelicals give almost 10% of their income to charity, whereas the Nonreligious give around .7% of their income to charity.

Even when we focus only on giving to secular charities -- which is an artificially narrow constraint -- religious Americans (mostly Christians) outperform the Nonreligious in giving by at least 10 points. The disparity increases, again, once we look at levels of commitment, such as frequency of prayer or church membership. Religious Americans were also far more likely to give and give more to family and friends in need, to donate blood, and to volunteer their time.

These results are dramatic, but should not be surprising. Christianity is likely the single greatest factor in charitable giving in the West. The spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire fundamentally changed concepts of charity for the better. That shift is still with us today, as the above data demonstrates.

22 comments:

'Christians in the United States are far more likely to give to charity and give a far greater percentage of their income to charities than nonreligious Americans.'

In other words, a single atheist like Bill Gates gives more money than entire churches

Islam makes charity giving one of its 5 pillars. Muslims give more than atheists.

I suspect that Muslims on average do give more than atheists to charity.

I like how some atheists live vicariously through the admirable generosity of Bill Gates. It is as if you can point to a few of the rich Nonreligious and that lets all those other Nonreligious who give nothing or a little and eliminates all those Christians who give but aren't billionaires.

Yet another example of dispassionate, reasoned analysis by a resident skeptic. All they care about is the facts right? It is not as if they are trying to cloud any positive aspects of religion.

How do atheist unitarian universalist do compared to christians?

We tend to ignore that there are atheist churchgoers in these discussions.

In 2000, there were around 218,000 Unitarian Universalists in the United States. How many of those are atheists?

Actually, I found the answer. According to the UUA website, "at last count, 19% of Unitarian Universalists said that they did not believe in any type of god."

http://www.uua.org/visitors/beliefswithin/6191.shtml

If was true in 2000, we are talking about 42,000 atheists who are related to the UUA in some way, which identifies itself as "a liberal religion with Jewish-Christian roots."

People who are part of an organization that encourages and carries out charity work are more charitable than others, on average.

Who'd have guessed?

Do you see the problem with the statistical model being employed here? Membership in an intrinsically charitable organization is being compared with the broad category of people lacking belief in X.

Its like comparing people who go to synagogue with people who don't believe in circumcision.

The first category includes, by definition, only people who participate in an organization that encourages charity while the latter includes both people who are part of charitable organizations and others who aren't.

So, surprise, surprise! The first category will have a higher average charitability.

Does that mean we should all go out and get circumsized to make ourselves more charitable?

David,

You are conceding much of my point and ignoring the obvious as to the rest. Christianity (and to a much lesser extent in the U.S., other religions) is responsible for the existence of these organizations that encourage and carry out charitable works. There is no problem with statistical modeling here, this is reality. Christians are much more charitable than the Nonreligious because they are encouraged to be so by their religious beliefs whereas the Nonreligious have no such encouragement.

Christianity, and I think it likely some other religions, actually results in more charitable giving.

Let us imagine a sect that worshiped the color orange. This sect promoted the worship of orange, teaching that it was the color of the gods, and encouraged others and provided others with opportunities to worship the color orange. We would not be surprised to fine that members of that sect and those influenced by it have a higher incidence of liking the color orange whereas those who did not belong to the group have lower levels of liking the color orange.

You might say, "hey, they only reason they like the color orange is because they are taught to worship it and belong to organizations that give them opportunities to love the color orange." This isn't disputing causation, it is conceding it. The difference of course is that liking the color orange is not particularly socially useful or moral, whereas I hope we can agree that charitable giving is socially useful and a moral good.

What's the point of all this stuff about giving and marriage? I'm an atheist who gives regularly to a number of charities and has been happily, faithfully married for twenty five years. I really don't care what you think your statistics say, I personally don't need church or a belief in God(s) for either of those things.

A Hermit,

The point should be obvious. Christianity plays an important role in these positive contributions to society. It is not meant to say that if you are not religious you cannot be charitable. Many atheists act in conformity of many moral teachings of Christianity and other religions.

Pointing to yourself and saying that you are one Nonreligious person who gives regularly does not dispute the point that Christians are more likely to give and give more to a substantial degree than the Nonreligious.

Further, as I said, I was responding to an atheist's argument that Christians have higher divorce rates than the average American and that Christianity offered no benefit at all. They don't, and it does.

I'm not suggesting that anyone here necessarily disagrees with the point I'm about to make, but I think it bears pointing out anyway.

Personally, I don't care who gives or why, and I reckon most starving kids, flood victims, refugees, and folks dying of AIDS don't care either, so long as people are giving.

I'm an atheist and I give. Many of you are Christians and you give too.

Clearly there's something in common about all of those who give, and it clearly isn't belief in god so much as a concern for others that comes from the COMMON BELIEF that suffering matters and that we should alleviate it, because either god or our compassion for others leads us to do so.

So why not focus on that? Isn't the fact that any of us care to give enough?

I fully recognize that some atheists choose to pick this fight as do some christian's, but I always wonder why this kind of issue has to be used as leverage to make a point... one way or the other.


Christianity (and to a much lesser extent in the U.S., other religions) is responsible for the existence of these organizations that encourage and carry out charitable works.


You say that as if it was true of ALL of them. Obviously, charitable work has been a traditional role of religion throughout history (especially prior to government programs for the needy) and christianity is by far the dominant religion in our society---so many charities are linked to christianity here---no surprise there.

Though far from all of them are religious. One could list nonreligious charitable organizations for an hour and not reach the end of them.



Christians are much more charitable than the Nonreligious because they are encouraged to be so by their religious beliefs whereas the Nonreligious have no such encouragement.


You are restating the error without recognizing it.

Christian churches are organizations which encourage charity. Membership in it, by definition, means exposure to encouragement to charity.

Nonbelief in God is simply an absence of belief. The category of nonbelievers in God (as is true of almost any category not, by definition, involving membership in a charitable org.) includes both members of organizations that encourage charity and people who arent members in such organizations.

Therefore it is inevitable that the latter category will have less charity, on average than the former.

This will be true of ANY comparison of membership in a charitable group vs something unrelated to charitable work.

--Doctors without borders members vs dog owners.

Guess who's, on average, more charitable.

--Elks club members vs people who don't believe in vampires.

Who do you think scores highest?

--Muslims vs left handed people

Yep. You guessed it.


You might say, "hey, they only reason they like the color orange is because they are taught to worship it and belong to organizations that give them opportunities to love the color orange." This isn't disputing causation, it is conceding it. The difference of course is that liking the color orange is not particularly socially useful or moral, whereas I hope we can agree that charitable giving is socially useful and a moral good.


Sure it is. But I don't need to be part of a supernaturalist religion to be in a charitable organization.

There's another issue that hasn't been mentioned. Atheists tend to support such things as laws mandating universal health care coverage and other governmental social welfare programs far more strongly, on average, than the religious.

As nice as it is when a church has a fundraiser to help a family with no medical insurance with expenses resulting from a major injury or illness its still quite piecemeal. Not nearly as effective as simply having health care being a legally mandated right of all citizens.

So if more of you charitable christians were atheists with the typically liberal social and political views of atheists we might have these issues dealt with much more effectively---instead of helping out a family here and there helping out all families wholesale.

Anyway, we've been having this discussion without even making clear what the actual statistics are.

I'd like to see more specifics.

And since you make the point that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people" I also think its only fair that you include the statistics that reflect negatively on christianity and religion too (like higher rates of racism and the statistics comparing regions of high religiosity to low religiosity) so that we can make a more complete and balanced assessment.

LG,

As I think I've demonstrated, belief in God does seem to have something to do with giving. At least, Christian faith does. And it makes a big difference. While people in need may or may not care specifically who is giving and why, I suspect they would care if Christianity and religion declined in the United States and charitable giving declined as well -- which is what the data suggests.

If the Christian faith or other faiths made no difference, as you claim, then do people who have that faith or those faiths give so much more than those who do not?

That some atheists give does not detract from this point. They may have different reasons for giving. But those reasons, if they are even independent of religion, are weaker than faith. And I suspect that at least some portion of atheist giving is just another example of atheists borrowing moral capital from a previously more Christianized culture. There is no guarantee, or evidence, that giving rates among even atheists would continue if Christian influence declined.

DE,

You say that as if it was true of ALL of them. Obviously, charitable work has been a traditional role of religion throughout history (especially prior to government programs for the needy) and christianity is by far the dominant religion in our society---so many charities are linked to christianity here---no surprise there.

I do not recall saying that the results were surprising.

I do remember saying that Muslims are likely more charitable than atheists, though I don't have that data. I also discussed explicitly secular charities at length. So your claim that I attribute all charities to Christianity is false.

And the facts above show that those secular charities you could list are more likely going to be funded by Christians than by the Nonreligious.

Christian churches are organizations which encourage charity. Membership in it, by definition, means exposure to encouragement to charity.

The error is still yours my friend. You try and eliminate the charitable quality of Christianity by defining it as charitable. Why do Christian churches encourage giving to charities? Why do they encourage so much more giving to even secular charities than the nonreligious? Because that is part of their teaching. Again, you concede my point. Christianity and Christian organizations cause increased giving. Thanks.

How is it you think you are defeating the point? Membership in a bowling league likely doesn't cause increased charitable giving. Why? Because its not a basic part of bowling. It is because it is charity is a basic teaching of Christianity that identification with the Christian religion and participation in Christian activities results in so much more and greater giving.

I am still trying to figure your approach out. Perhaps it is another form of the "Christians give more to their churches because they are members of those churches" argument. I addressed this above on its face and by pointing out that Christians are more charitable to charities that are not their churches, are more charitable to secular charities unaffiliated with any religion, and more charitable with their friends and family members in need.

But I don't need to be part of a supernaturalist religion to be in a charitable organization.

No one said you did. The question is not capability. Many of the Nonreligious have more means than the religious. The question is what prompts increased giving. Christianity does. Involvement with your place of worship does.

Atheists tend to support such things as laws mandating universal health care coverage and other governmental social welfare programs far more strongly, on average, than the religious.

They do? What is your evidence for that?

In any event, you are confusing charity with government social welfare programs. This is a definitional problem. They are not the same.

I guess if atheists think that taking other people's money to help those in need is a form of charity, that explains why they don't themselves tend to help those in need. Even when they happen to be their own family or friends.

Besides, many Christians in fact are liberals and do support more liberal approaches to health care. My objection to some plans that have been put forward is not that I want to save my money, but that I'm skeptical that single-payer plans will actually result in better health care for the nation. So I would be uncharitable if I supported something I thought would make people worse of in general than better off.

In any event, Christian charities have a long history of providing much more health care than having a fundraiser here or there. Many, many hospitals are nonprofit organizations founded by Christians or Christian denominations.

It would be easier on your intellectual integrity if you just accepted the obvious and admitted that the encouragement of charitable giving is a positive contribution of Christianity to the U.S.

Anyway, we've been having this discussion without even making clear what the actual statistics are.

I have endeavored to provide the actual statistics. You have provided none. So I am at least ahead of you on that one.

I'd like to see more specifics.

I would like to see you provide specifics too.

And since you make the point that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people" I also think its only fair that you include the statistics that reflect negatively on christianity and religion too (like higher rates of racism and the statistics comparing regions of high religiosity to low religiosity) so that we can make a more complete and balanced assessment.

Actually, it is an atheist sociologist at the University of Virginia who makes that point.

And you know what? No one is preventing you from offering such statistics. But you seem little interested in the truth, but more interested in apologeticing for the "nonbelief" that is Atheism.

If you do offer statistics, I suspect you be more precise than showing that regions that have higher religiousity also have this or that problem. I suspect you show that the religious practitioners themselves exhibit this or that behavior. Otherwise, your offering will likely be a waste of time. As I explained before, you might point out that the certain Southern states have higher divorce rates and higher religiousity. But we know that actually attending the churches in those areas significantly lowers the divorce rates for all subgroups involved, so you could hardly claim that it is religion causing the higher divorce rates. Or, at least, not convincingly.

I just noticed something about the statistics you cite. It refers to nonreligious whereas you are referring to atheists.

These are not necessarily the same things. The category of nonreligious can include theists who are inactive (nonchurchgoing, nonparticipatory), "spiritual but not religious", and the like as well as nonbelievers in God.

We really need a clearer breakdown of the data if we're going to talk about how charitable atheists are.

I also note that you cite only one survey. Those of us familiar with statistics know all too well that this is not a great idea. You also make no reference to how large the survey was or how wide an area it took place in. All very pertinent to this discussion.

More data please. Do you have any links to the specific data from the General Social Survey? It would be very helpful. As well as other surveys and studies. Only one survey is a small pool of data from which to draw much of a conclusion.


It would be easier on your intellectual integrity if you just accepted the obvious and admitted that the encouragement of charitable giving is a positive contribution of Christianity to the U.S.


I'm not denying that at all. However, the overall point of this series of posts on social well-being statistics is an argument for the social benefits of religiosity in general and christianity specifically. And I think its important to point out that cherry-picking the positive statistics while ignoring the negative ones is hardly the ideal way to carry out such an assessment. To make a good argument for the social benefits of religion we need to be comparing the stats across a wide range of measures of social well-being....not just the ones you find favorable.


As I explained before, you might point out that the certain Southern states have higher divorce rates and higher religiousity. But we know that actually attending the churches in those areas significantly lowers the divorce rates for all subgroups involved, so you could hardly claim that it is religion causing the higher divorce rates. Or, at least, not convincingly.


And I wouldn't make such an argument (I'm studying toward a degree in applied math and know better).

However, the fact that statistics consistently show that regions of high religiosity are also regions of lower social well-being IS rather problematic for an argument for the social benefits of religion---whatever the reason for this correlation might be---whether its low education levels, poverty or whatnot.


And you know what? No one is preventing you from offering such statistics.


I really shouldn't have to. If you're interested in an honest assessment of the social benefits of religion you should be candidly putting forward the bad as well as the good in the statistics on religion.

That you fail to do so shows a lack of real confidence that the good would clearly outweigh the bad when all is viewed together.


Because its not a basic part of bowling. It is because it is charity is a basic teaching of Christianity that identification with the Christian religion and participation in Christian activities results in so much more and greater giving.


Atheism is, remember, a simple nonbelief in a particular doctrine. It is not an ideology. It is no more part of my personal identity than your being a non-hindu is part of yours.

That's the fundamental problem with your comparison. You're comparing a particular ideology and institution with a broad class that includes people of massively different ideologies.

I, for example, am a humanist.

That's my ideology. Do you have stats on active humanists (members of humanist organizations and humanist leaning universalist unitarian churches, for example)versus active christians (ones who attend church regularly).

If you don't you're just comparing apples and oranges.

Imagine how you'd feel about it if someone compared the stats on charity for active muslims vs nonmuslims.

You'd be included in the latter category and, almost certainly, come out in the "less charitable" group---even if churchgoing christians are just as, or more, charitable.

And humanists active in humanist organization, nonsupernaturalist unitarian universalists and similar people have good case to be just as put off by your characterization of the data as you would be by the active muslim vs nonmuslim comparison.

I just noticed something about the statistics you cite. It refers to nonreligious whereas you are referring to atheists.

Actually, you will see that I usually refer to "Nonreligious" when discussing the poll results. I have been very straightforward with this. The purpose of this poll is not to tell us just how uncharitable atheists are -- though they obviously make up a significant portion of the Nonreligious -- but to show how Christianity and attendance at religious services causes increased levels of giving.

And Nonreligious does not include Christians or Muslims or Jews. You are right that it may include theists who do not consider themselves to be a part of any religion. It also includes Agnostics and Atheists.


I also note that you cite only one survey. Those of us familiar with statistics know all too well that this is not a great idea. You also make no reference to how large the survey was or how wide an area it took place in.

I do not cite "one survey." I first cite an atheist psychologist (not sociologist, my mistake) who refers to multiple surveys showing religious believers are more charitable. Then I cite data from the GSS 1998, the GSS 2000, the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (2000), the Arts and Religious Survey (1999), the Giving and Volunteering in the U.S. (2000). I also cite the works of three other professors referencing this data in Passing the Plate and Who Really Cares.

How could you possibly have read my post and come to the conclusion that the data is derived from one survey? And if you are, as you claim to be, someone familiar with statistics, how come you are unfamiliar with the GSS? Are you really claim that's an untrustworthy source of data? That it has too small of sample sizes? That practitioners in almost all if not all social science arenas do not use GSS data on a regular basis?

I was careful to list all of the sources of the survey data so anyone could flag any problems. If you have some specific problems, list them. Otherwise, you are wasting our time trying to ignore the obvious.

I'm not denying that at all.

So you admit it?

However, the overall point of this series of posts on social well-being statistics is an argument for the social benefits of religiosity in general and christianity specifically.

The posts take up different areas. I actually started with one that atheists on this site claimed showed Christianity had no influence on that area and that this reflected poorly on Christianity.

And I think its important to point out that cherry-picking the positive statistics while ignoring the negative ones is hardly the ideal way to carry out such an assessment.

Like I said, I was responding to atheist claims about a particular data set. That is not cherry-picking. I moved on to examine other factors.

To make a good argument for the social benefits of religion we need to be comparing the stats across a wide range of measures of social well-being....not just the ones you find favorable.

There are social studies done regularly across many disciplines that focus on specific characteristics rather than every conceivable characteristic. Both posts have examined a particular characteristic and suggested conclusions for those characteristics. I have not overreached to claim that therefore Christianity must be true or even that it only has positive results. That would be overreaching.

You obviously are not interested in the big picture or you might have done some of your own research by now. You just want to raise the bar as high as possible to avoid conceding any positive benefit from Christianity -- even tentatively.

However, the fact that statistics consistently show that regions of high religiosity are also regions of lower social well-being IS rather problematic for an argument for the social benefits of religion---whatever the reason for this correlation might be---whether its low education levels, poverty or whatnot.

Funny how you lie about how many polls and studies I cite to support my position but offer none in support of your own.

And even if your generalization were true about regional issues, if the polls show that regularly attending Christians within those regions perform better than those who do not attend or are Nonreligious, how does this cause trouble for the notion that Christianity or religion makes positive social contributions to the United States?

I really shouldn't have to. If you're interested in an honest assessment of the social benefits of religion you should be candidly putting forward the bad as well as the good in the statistics on religion.

That you fail to do so shows a lack of real confidence that the good would clearly outweigh the bad when all is viewed together.


This is odd logic. Because I take up a challenge from an atheist and pick his ground of choosing to study divorce statistics and prove him wrong, I am not interested in the truth about these issues? And this proves that I am less interested in the truth than you, who can't even admit what the evidence presented does show? You dodge and weave and raise red herrings about "regional" results. It is you who have consistently shown little interest in the truth about these issues.

And it is not about confidence or a lack of confidence. When I started looking into the divorce issue I did not know how the data would sort out. I had heard about Barna's study and from Christians at church that Christians had the same or slightly higher divorce rates than "the world." Was I glad to find out that wasn't the case? Sure. But I didn't look into it confident that those representations were in error.

With charity I admit I was confident that Christianity and religion would come out on top. That's largely because Christianity is largely responsible for the charitable ethic in the West and had done previous research on the issue for my article (referenced near the end of the above post). Given the atheist commentor's claim that there were no benefits to Christianity, I thought it time to dust off the issue, update it, and respond with some real data.

Atheism is, remember, a simple nonbelief in a particular doctrine. It is not an ideology. It is no more part of my personal identity than your being a non-hindu is part of yours.

If I can't speak about your personal identity, I know other atheists who take their atheism to be a much bigger part of who they are than you do.

That's the fundamental problem with your comparison. You're comparing a particular ideology and institution with a broad class that includes people of massively different ideologies.

No, I'm comparing Christians and attenders of religious services with Nonreligious people. Atheists are a large subset of the Nonreligious, but they are not all of them nor have I claimed such.

Surely you see that even if you have data showing that atheists are super givers -- very unlikely and certainly not forthcoming -- that Christianity would still be encouraging a societal good by its promotion of charity at a rate much greater than those who aren't Christians or involved in religious activities.

I, for example, am a humanist.

That's my ideology. Do you have stats on active humanists (members of humanist organizations and humanist leaning universalist unitarian churches, for example)versus active christians (ones who attend church regularly).


That's a rather vague ideology. Many humanists are Christians. Then there is a subset known as secular humanism. Many humanists attend Church, including UUA members (80% of whom are theists) which defines itself as a religion with Jewish Christian roots.

I concede humanists may give more than the Nonreligious as a whole, there aren't enough of them or they don't give enough to move those numbers very much do they?

If you don't you're just comparing apples and oranges.

Not at all, as we've been over again and again. Christians give more than the Nonreligious. Regularly attending Christians give more than Christians and the Nonreligious. They are among the highest givers in the nation, even accounting for other statistics like income and race. This religious commitment causes higher giving levels. That is a societal good.

Now you may wish or have faith that Humanists surpass the giving of regular attenders (or at least those Humanists who are not regular attenders), but even if that were true, it does not disprove my point.

Imagine how you'd feel about it if someone compared the stats on charity for active muslims vs nonmuslims.

You'd be included in the latter category and, almost certainly, come out in the "less charitable" group---even if churchgoing Christians are just as, or more, charitable.


This really isn't about my feelings. And in this country I'm skeptical that the numbers would come out -- or at least am not almost certain -- that Muslims give more than everyone else.

However, if the data showed that Muslims give much more than everyone else then I'd concede that Islam and Islamic organizations are likely encouraging charity. And if the data showed that they were also as more likely to give to secular charities and be kind to their friends and families, I'd say that is likely a positive contribution of Islam.

How about you?

I would add, given the numbers, that it would be an odd poll that looked at the less than 1% of Muslims and asked about no other religious ideology, thereby excluding the 80% or so of the population that self identifies as Christians.

I do know there is more breakdown in my sources about secular and religious and ideology. If I have time I'll see what I can come up with.

Layman,

Thanks for your response. Those are good points, but I guess I just don't agree with you on the issue of borrowing moral capital.

Unless you have statistics suggesting societies that suffer a decrease in Christianity coincides with a decrease in charitable giving, then I'm not sure the numbers you cite suggest that assertion.

I think you'd have to admit, that it's also an awfully convenient position to take that atheist's "borrow" moral capital. That way, if statistics ever showed that charitable giving did NOT decrease with a decrease in Christianity, one could simply attribute it to a moral securities trade.

Again, let me be clear-- I don't deny the many good things religion does, and charitable giving is certainly one of the foremost among them. For that reason, I don't advocate burning down churches, arresting clergy, or banning the bible, koran, upanishads or even dianetics. Religion often acts as an enormous force for good in the world.

I'm just suggesting there may be reasons to give (independent of "god says so") that christians and humanists may share in common, and it would certainly be better for society as a whole to focus on that overlapping consensus for giving rather than letting the whole issue turn into an apologetic battleground.

If there are mutually persuasive reasons for giving, regardless of one's faith or lack thereof, wouldn't it make sense to explore them if our real interest is increasing charitable giving across religious points of view?

In any event, thanks for an interesting post.


...... I guess I just don't agree with you on the issue of borrowing moral capital.



This idea of borrowing moral capital seems particularly implausible when another set of statistics that Layman never seems to post about is taken into account. The fact that its been consistently found that the nations (and regions of nations) with the lowest levels of religiosity have the highest scores in nearly every measure of social well-being.

If religiosity were a major causative factor in matters of social well-being this would be quite inexplicable---we would expect to see an opposite correlation.

David,

If you have evidence showing that more secular persons in more secular countries are more generous in their giving to charities, religious or secular, then by all means let us see it.

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to "social well-being" and I've never claimed religion is the only one or even the most important factor for all indicia. In other words, you are attacking a strawman without -- so far -- giving us any specifics to discuss.

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