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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

A number of recent studies have confirmed the links found by a number of previous studies that religious commitment -- in most cases Christian commitment measured by church attendance -- has substantial social benefits for America’s youth. In this post I will focus on three studies that I have recently reviewed. All three studies find significant benefits of religious commitment for America's youth, with two studies focusing exclusively on the beneficial affects of religious commitment on disadvantaged youth. I have linked to PDFS of each study.

The Role of Religious and Social Organization in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth

The first study is “The Role of Religious and Social Organization in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth,” submitted at the NBER Conference, April 13-14, 2007, hosted by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, by Rajeev Dehejia, Thomas DeLeiere, and John Mitchell (August 2007). This study focused on the buffering effect religion had on a number of outcomes (such as the adult child's income, education, health, and psychological well being) and associated childhood disadvantages (such as family income and poverty measures, parental education, and parental assessments of the child). The study examined whether by adulthood, “children whose parents were involved with religious and social organizations suffered less harm from growing up in a disadvantaged environment than children whose parents were less involved.” Id. at 2. The researchers conclude that religion did have such a beneficial effect.

We find strong evidence that youth with religiously active parents are less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage than youth whose parents did not frequently attend religious services. These buffering effects of religious organizations are most pronounced when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also found buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantaged pairs. We generally find much weaker effects for other social organizations.

Id. at 1.

For example, having a mother with a high school degree or less significantly lowers the likelihood that the adult child will graduate from high school and obtain at least some college education. For the child whose parent was not active in their church, the probability of obtaining some college decreases by 31 points. For the similarly situated child whose parent was active in church, the effect is reduced to 16 points. Put another way, religious involvement buffers 48 percent of the negative effect and significantly increases a child's educational outlook. Id. 19. All told, the buffering effect of religious involvement was strongest on education, being a smoker, and income levels. Id. 21-23. Notably, the study found “no case of a significantly negative buffering effect.” Id. at 21.

Other social organizations had significantly less or no buffering affect on disadvantage outcomes. Community organizations (such as veterans organizations or political groups) have some positive effects in a few categories, but work-related organizations (such as labor unions) have none. Id. at 23. Involvement in leisure groups (such as sports or youth groups) had significantly more buffering effect than community organizations, but significantly less than religious organizations. Id. at 24.

The Impact of Religion on Youth in Disadvantaged Families

Next, is a study presented in June 2007 at a National Poverty Center conference hosted by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan. The study is titled, “The Impact of Religion on Youth in Disadvantaged Families,” by Dean R. Lillard and Joseph Price.

The study begins by noting that many previous studies have shown a strong relationship between religious attendance and “good” social outcomes for youth. The study itself used data from the NLSY79 (a nationally representative sample of 12,686 young men and women who were 14-22 years old when they were first surveyed in 1979 and have been interviewed annually through 1994 and are currently interviewed on a biennial basis), PSID (another national longitudinal study tracking 8,000 families since 1968), and Monitoring the Future (an ongoing annual survey of 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students), and found “that youth who attend church more often are less likely to commit property or violent crimes and are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, and receive a ticket.” Id. at 1. The study also found a significant drop in the "behavioral problem index" and an increase in reading test scores indicating increased child cognitive achievement.

The study suggested that religion provides a number of mechanisms that may be responsible for this beneficial effect.

There are several possible mechanisms through which religious organizations can produce non-cognitive skills in youth. They teach and reinforce a fairly well defined set of values in Sunday services and other classes. Churches reduce the cost of monitoring what youth do by establishing and running youth groups that meet on a regular basis in addition to regular church services. In addition, members of the church also monitor youth behavior and provide examples for children to emulate. Other mechanisms mentioned by Sherkat and Ellison (1999) include the role that churches play in helping youth internalize moral messages and norms, creating fear of divine punishment or social sanctions from church and peers.
Id. at 3.

The Great Escape: How Religion alters the Delinquent Behavior of High-Risk Adolescents


Finally, there is a study released by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, titled, "The Great Escape: How Religion alters the Delinquent Behavior of High-Risk Adolescents," Byron R. Johnson and Marc V. Siegel (2008). The Great Escape examines “the potential importance of religious commitment in protecting and supporting black male youth in escaping from the crime of inner cities.”

This study is based on survey data from 2,358 young black males in poverty tracts in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. It added several variables to the survey in order to "separate the effect of religiosity from other possible factors," including "age, education, single parent at age 14, public housing, belief in education and work, commitment to work, productive hours and gang membership." Id. at 7.

The authors of the study discussed a number of possible mechanisms by which religious commitment may have a positive effect on the behavior of disadvantaged black males.

Why, though, should we expect religiously committed adolescents to be more likely than their non-religious peers to refrain from deviant activities? A fundamental answer is that those youth who frequently attend religious services and consider religion an important part of their lives are more likely to be bonded to an institution of informal social control which non-religious youth are not, namely, religious institutions such as the church. Thus, sanctions derived from religion, which non-religious youth are less likely to be subject to, are expected to influence the activities that religious youth partake in. As far as guidance is concerned, youth regularly attending church are expected to: (1) be attached to the church (i.e., church members and groups); (2 ) be committed to church teachings and principles; (3 ) be involved in church-oriented activities and lifestyles; (4 ) have conventional beliefs developed through the church and strengthened through their religion and (5) have been exposed to an overload of rationale favorable to conformity over those favorable to deviance.

Id. at 5.

The study found that religious commitment as measured by attendance at religious services "significantly reduce non-drug illegal activities, drug use, and drug dealing among disadvantaged youth." Attitudinal measures of religious commitment, such as self-reporting on the importance of religion in the participant's life, was "not significantly linked to reductions in juvenile delinquency." Id., at 3. Further, the study found that "church attendance not only impacts minor crimes, but more serious forms of deviance as well.” Id. at 8.

Here is a break down of the results:

* For non-drug crime, the probability of committing a crime was 31% for participants who did not attend church, but 19% for those who attended more than once a week (holding all other factors at their means). This was a 39% reduction in the risk of committing a non-drug crime. Id. at 9.

* For drug use, the probability of using illegal drugs for non-attenders was 48% and 26% for those who attended more than once a week. This was a 48% reduction in the risk of illegal drug use. Id. at 9.

* For drug-dealing related crimes, the probability was 33% for non-attenders and 14% for regular attenders. This was a 57% reduction in the risk of engaging in drug dealing. Id. at 9.

28 comments:

Larson found 400 studies that demonstrate this. these were from social science abstracts.

The research is overwhelming. I could write about this stuff continuously if I wanted to.

As a child, Christianity was horrible for me.

Game over. I win. You lose.

Play again? Y/N

Oh, and metacrock, why do you keep changing the number of alleged studies that allegedly prove that Christianity is good for you? Is it 300, 350, or 400? Will you next claim that there are 450 such alleged studies? Why can't you keep straight something that is so simple?


For non-drug crime, the probability of committing a crime was 31% for participants who did not attend church, but 19% for those who attended more than once a week (holding all other factors at their means).


How does this compare to kids who are highly active in karate? Or science clubs? The debate team?

David,

The first study examined this, at least in part. The family's involvement in other organizations do not have as substantial of benefits as attendance at religious services. Leisure groups, which I think would encompass karate for example, had social benefits but not as much as religious attendance.

Sports and chess club will provide some social monitoring of youth, but will not help "youth internalize moral messages and norms, creating fear of divine punishment" nor will it cause youth to be "committed to church teachings and principle."

No one has denied that there are a number of things that can help disadvantaged youth buffer against negative effects. Consistence church attendance has a substantial impact. It also offers moral teaching and reinforcement that sports, chess, or science club do not, by their nature, provide.

And you said religious commitment causes racism. I'm still waiting for your evidence to that effect.

And I think that you still owe me some response regarding your misrepresentation that I cited only one study in my post on happiness when I in fact cited many.

Correction: the misrepresentation you made regarded my post on charitable giving, not happiness.

This reminds me of the recent Craig-Hitchens debate where Craig said in the Q&A period I think that Bertrand Russel wrote in "Why I am not a christian" something like "Ok, christianity has all those benefits, but that does not make it true"

And again I have to point out that Church has never been part of my family's life and yet I've managed to raise two polite, well behaved responsible, hard working sons. Imabgine that! ;-)

I'm still not sure what we're supposed to take from all of this; even if we accept the validity of your interpretation of the statistics there are still large numbers of us for whom religious participation was not a positive thing. If the benefits of religious participation are due to human, social factors this makes perfect sense, but if we're supposed to take from this that the benefits are actually due to some divine influence then I think you're actually raises some pretty difficult questions about the nature of that deity.

It's like anti-depressants; when my father got sick a few years ago he became depressed and the doctors prescribe an anti-depressant which is effective for 90% of the people who use. In the other 10%, like my father, it has the opposite effect, deepening the depression and driving the patient to thoughts of suicide...

Church attendance was a bit like that for me...not to the point of suicidal thoughts, but certainly it had a profoundly negative influence on me.

If there is a God behind these statistics shouldn't we expect His influence to be a bit more reliable than a pharmaceutical?

How do you account for those of us who are get along just fine without Church? Or, as in my case, even better without Church than with it?


And you said religious commitment causes racism.


No I didn't. I said religiosity CORRELATES with racism. If you fail to recognize the difference it only demonstrates my main point---that you don't understand much about statistics.

By the way, how do atheists who attend churches like UU do compared to theists?

If any churchgoing gets the job done then I'll take a nonsupernaturalist, humanistic version. I've long thought this was a good idea. If your studies find no difference between these groups then it adds weight to a view I've long suspected was true---that something like churches are useful....but that they need not involve supernaturalism.

For non-drug crime, the probability of committing a crime was 31% for participants who did not attend church, but 19% for those who attended more than once a week (holding all other factors at their means).


How does this compare to kids who are highly active in karate? Or science clubs? The debate team?

debaters are all going ot hell anyway. Because when they try to get saved they always come up with arguments against it.

I was in debate for eight years. I out to know.

Oh, and metacrock, why do you keep changing the number of alleged studies that allegedly prove that Christianity is good for you? Is it 300, 350, or 400? Will you next claim that there are 450 such alleged studies? Why can't you keep straight something that is so simple?

more atheist reading comprehension problems.

I'm sure this is a hard cocnept for you get. But read slow now:

It's different groups of studies. The 350 are different studies on different things done in different ways from the other studies.

do you get it?

Ellis,

It is not clear exactly what you meant, but I did a post entitled, "Church Attendance Promotes Happiness," to which you replied, "Do you plan on doing a post on racism and religiosity?"

But giving you the benefit of the doubt, where is your data that "religiosity" correlates with racism? Or that church attendance correlates with racism? Or that religious commitment correlates with racism?

As for your fanciful notion of churches full of atheists and the nonreligious filling the gap of all the social benefits of existing churches and religious institutes, hope springs eternal.

Didn't we already discuss that about a fifth or so of unitarian universalists don't believe in God?

Are you familiar with Don Cupitt and the nonrealist view of religion?

Also I recall a recent article on Denmark and its high marks on social well-being scores despite having very high atheism rates. The article discusses how attitudes toward church in Denmark are very different from the US. Very similar to Cupitt's approach.

This comment has been removed by the author.


But giving you the benefit of the doubt, where is your data that "religiosity" correlates with racism? Or that church attendance correlates with racism? Or that religious commitment correlates with racism?


Its but a quick google search away.

Here's one paper discussing this correlation:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3512331

The opening of the paper states:

"Since Allport and Kramer (1946) found a positive relationship between religious commitement and racial prejudice, generations of researchers have elaborated upon this finding. This finding is considered surprising, distressing, and also paradoxical: '...there is something about religion that makes for prejudice, and something....that unmakes prejudice...' (Allport 1966:447) However, time and again, researchers reported religious people to be rather prejudiced."

In the abstract of the paper is this statement:

"A crucial find is that Catholics and Protestants support prejudice against ethnic minorities more than nonreligious people."

here's a link to another paper:

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ233351&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ233351

whose abstract states:

"Utilizing data from two national surveys, examines attitudes of White Protestants toward women's participation in politics. Compares the relationship between affiliation and religiosity and sex prejudice to that between religiosity and ethnic prejudice. Finds that unaffiliated Whites exhibit less sex and ethnic prejudice than do Whites affiliated with Protestant churches."

Didn't we already discuss that about a fifth or so of unitarian universalists don't believe in God?

what do you mean by "God?" In saying things like "they don't believe in god" we have to careful to define our terms. Because they could believing in some kind of transcendental signifier and that would equivocate to God, but believe in a big man on a throne or the God of the bible.

do they not believe in any sort of transcendental signifier? Or do they not believe in the "big guy in the sky?"

"Utilizing data from two national surveys, examines attitudes of White Protestants toward women's participation in politics. Compares the relationship between affiliation and religiosity and sex prejudice to that between religiosity and ethnic prejudice. Finds that unaffiliated Whites exhibit less sex and ethnic prejudice than do Whites affiliated with Protestant churches."


that's just a boondoggle. Because you have to get into the role of churches in the civil rights movment

(1)you are being racist in assuming that white chruches represent Chrsitnaity and black one's don't.

(2) you have to separate the question of sexism from that of racism. they are not equivalent. Many black males have sexist attitudes. The male ego vs racist mentality are two very different things. One can be totally open to racial equality and still think as a sexist. So you have to treat them as two different issues.

(3) you are being nationalistic: assuming American chruches define Christain attitudes but 3d world chruches don't.

(4) racism is a cultural construct and pleags American society, does that mean canadian chruches have the same attitudes, even white ones? or French chruches? why don't black Liberian chruches represent Christian attitudes?

(5) the studies about mystical experince and it's effects on the guys, the M scale (used by most of them) has been cross culturally validated int he 3d world.

(6) now many of the people in the polls you site were tested by the M scale? I bet none. so you are not really dealing with people who have gotten the "big zap" from Christian goodness. those are just dealing with nominal christians who are "name only." there is a clear distinction we can draw with the M scale so you can't aruge the scottsman thing.

Ellis,

I have not argued that atheism produces delinquency. I have argued that church attendance helps alleviate the problems disadvantaged youth faith and buffers them against negative social ills. You seem to be saying that if there was no Christianity or religion that karate tournaments and debate clubs would pick up all the slack. That is fantasy land.

As for UU, they claim that 19% of their members lack belief in God. That may be about 40,000 atheists and agnostics attending UU churches. I am unsure what you truly think the significance of this is. That some atheists/agnostics who go to a church identified as having "Jewish Christian" roots and hangs out with the other 80% of attendees who are theists act somewhat like theists? That may be true. In fact, it likely is true. So what?

Ellis,

You site a study of Europeans, not Americans (Religiosity and Prejudice against Ethnic Minorities in Europe: Cross-National Tests on a Controversial Relationship, by Peer Scheepers, Merove Gijsberts and Evelyn Hello).

I will part ways with Joe here a little bit because I have been directing my research on the social benefits of religion in America. And, as Joe points out, one of the most religious groups in the United States are African-Americans. Of course this does not mean they are immune from exhibiting racism or racial prejudice, but it is highly doubtful that they are heaping it upon themselves.

The fact is that religion, as Joe states, was a vital ingredient in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. It produced many of its leaders, such as the Revs. Martin L. King, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as a significant amount of its persuasive calls for change ("All God's children.").

Let me ask you a few questions. Do you believe racism and prejudice are the same thing? And do you think that there is a causal effect here? That increased church attendance, for example, causes church members to become more racist?

As for your second study, there is not much to go on, which is why I tried to use studies that were generally available. But it focuses on a subset of religious adherents -- white Christian Protestants -- and ignored other significant religious groups, such as Black Protestants and all Catholics. This is especially ironic since you were the one complaining about cherry picking the data! Also, this study dates from 1980. That does not render it irrelevant per se, but a lot has changed since then.

btw Dave I wish you would make links

first study you mention

the conclusion of the first study actually says that more people are involved in spirituality and the more they learn about the doctrines of their faiths the less prejudiced they are.

It says they tend to be more prejudice the more they enclosed in just one type of religious association, or as the study puts it "the more they practice ,particularity."

actually Dave this first study contradicts your argument.

I could have told you that because the higher one scores on the M scale the more social consciousness one develops and the less prejudice one becomes.

Can't get hold of the second study. But polling since the 1980s has shown the majority of protestants have drifted toward accepting females pastors. Every major protestant denomination now allows female pastors. Over 50% of protestants believe that women women are equal and can be pastors.

there's a huge movement called "Egalitarian movement" represented by the Council on Biblical Equality and other groups such as the tiny Egalitarian Christian Alliance.

A ton of books have been written to demonstrate that bible teaches equality among the sexes.

I myself have a huge number of pages on the "woman's issue" on doxa plugging egalitarianism. There are links there to sites and organizations.

my women pages

I'm still not sure what we're supposed to take from all of this

I don't know how many times I have to explain it. I am responding to claims by an atheist commentor here that Christianity offers no social benefits.

even if we accept the validity of your interpretation of the statistics there are still large numbers of us for whom religious participation was not a positive thing.

It might help move the process along if you just came out and said whether you accept any of the conclusions are not. And please do not pretend that these are my interpretation of the numbers. These three studies were authored not by me but by some smart social scientists. That's not assurance of accuracy, obviously, but they are not my numbers or my interpretation of the numbers.

If the benefits of religious participation are due to human, social factors this makes perfect sense, but if we're supposed to take from this that the benefits are actually due to some divine influence then I think you're actually raises some pretty difficult questions about the nature of that deity.

I happen to think that divine influence can work through human and social factors, but if you are taking me to mean that someone who goes to church is somehow magically going to be more charitable, happier, in less trouble, and have a better marriage, then you need to go reread what I wrote. I specifically pointed to "social" factors that would play a role in some of these effects, such as church teaching and doctrine, classes on marriage, supervision of youth, etc.

Layman, I'm amazed at how atheists can deny evidence right in front of them. I'm losing faith in their evidentialism.

Brad,

Its like Animal Farm. Not all evidence is equal if some of it leads to places they would rather not go.

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