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Intolerant but Friendly: Religion in America

Updated on August 26, 2019
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ME has spent most of his retirement from service to the United States studying, thinking, and writing about the country he served.

Good Neighbor Policy

JUST a quick little hub while I am waiting for my plane at the Fort Lauderdale airport about an interesting article I read in today's USA Today on my flight here. It was in The Forum by David Campbell and Robert Putnam entitled "Religious People Are 'Better Neighbors'". Their Forum is a summary of one of the results from an exhaustive statistical survey and book they just published named "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us". (See the Amazon.Com ad.) The results surprised both them and myself.


The first result Campbell and Putnam discuss is regarding Tolerance. Their statistics indicate that " ... religious Americans are somewhat less tolerant of free speech and dissent ..." than their secular counterparts. They give a few examples and then went on to explain that they tried to control for every conceivable difference between secular and religious Americans other than religion to account for this "tolerance edge",as they call it. They could find none and are forced to conclude being slightly more intolerant is a characteristic of being religious.

Personally, I am not surprised by that result. I makes common sense to me given the need for the institutions of religion to create a culture that differentiates their particular form of belief from all others.Better

Better Neighbors

Only a long paragraph, however, was devoted to the "tolerance edge" The rest of the article discussed the more interesting "Better Neighbor" effect of being religious. Now, this does not surprise me either, in general, but the details do. Campbell and Putnam show that the difference in this area between religious, worship attending Americans and secular, non-worship attending Americans can sometimes be dramatic.


For example, in the area of volunteerism. One would expect that religious Americans would tend to volunteer more than secular Americans but what the survey found was that 40% of the former group volunteer to help the poor and elderly as compared to 15% for the latter! When it comes to health care, the survey found volunteer support from religious folk drops to 21% while secular remains around 14%. The size of the difference blew me away, but then I look at myself (I am one of those secular types), and I am not sure I make it to the 13% ... need to do something about that.

This difference, this "neighborliness gap", my term, continues regardless of the subject area. Whether you look at donations, neighborhood involvement, donating blood, etc, the difference is there. Why you ask? Campbell and Putnam have an answer.

It is not the fact that the person is religious per se. Nor is it that they are of one particular faith or another. In fact, you don't even need a religious affiliation. What you do need to do is attend religious meetings on a somewhat regular basis. What may be preached is apparently irrelevant. But, having "friends-at-church" is relevant! Having a social organization oriented to doing good is relevant. Having the peer pressure of the group seems to be influential where the same peer pressure at work is not, at least to the same degree. They even found that secular Americans who attend services with their non-secular spouses are more "neighborly" than those who don't attend services.

I hope you found this little piece interesting. Since I am an INTP, I eat this stuff up and have to go out and buy the book.

Going to Church Can Be Unhealthy (New)

Well, sort of, maybe. Just read (3/25/2011) this little story about researching the relationship between how often you attend church services and your chances of becoming obese. As it turns out, going to church on a regular basis about doubles your chances.

The study was actually looking at a more general question of what effects Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults. The group, from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, reported to an American Heart Association conference dedicated to physical activity, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, (take a breath) that they studied 2,433 young adults and tracked them for 25 years. They found mixed results for many of the normal risk factors but one stood out, the frequency of church attendance.

It seems that if you attend church once a week or more, chances are pretty good you will have a significantly higher body mass index (BMI) than those who less often, or never! This translates into an almost doubling of the risk for obesity. It must be those church potlucks.

The article, from CNN by Stephanie Smith -CNN Medical Producer, quoted Erik Christensen, a pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square in Chicago, Illinois in saying "There's certainly a church culture around eating. What I see among congregants in their 20s and 30s is they are very fit and what I see among congregants in their 50s and 60s is disproportionate obesity." Further, Christensen suggested that the virtual disappearance of church-sponsored baseball and basketball leagues may be part of the problem. He added that the decision to attend church is sometimes made at the expense of being involved in athletic or recreational activities.

On the flip side, however, going to church is also healthy. Other studies suggest that attending church helps with stress because of the "relaxation response" from prayer, meditation, or other such activities. Additionally, there are links with lower rates of smoking and lower overall death rates, overcoming those early deaths caused by obesity.

in the brain among people who pray, meditate, or engage in otherwise relaxing activities may alleviate anxiety and stress. Stress is implicated in many illnesses. Other studies suggest an association between church-going and longevity.

For those with inquiring minds.

© 2010 Scott Belford


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