Feb 17, 2013

Church suppers changing lives

Lots of studies have shown that religious people in America are more generous that areligious people. The more people go to church, the more generous they are. As Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard, summarizes the research, "people who are involved in religious networks are more likely to be good citizens."

There's something curious, here, though, when you break down the question of what it means to be "religious." The theological content of someone's religiousness has little to do with their generosity. Whether or not someone has faith or believes, or how much they believe, turns out to be rather irrelevant to the likelihood they demonstrate this sort of behavior.

Putnam says the statistics show that faith and belief in God do not correlate with people being good citizens and good neighbors. Religious people, Putnam says, are "nicer," but only when "religious" is taken to mean "people who have denser personal relationships with other people in their congregation or their religious community. It's not faith per se, it's communities of faith that matters for, our data shows, whether people are good citizens or not and whether they're happy or not."

According to Putnam, it's not clear why "church friends" have more of an influence on civic participation that other associations or groups of friends, but research shows that they do.

Turns out, in ways that social scientists can measure, the most life-changing part of church seems to be the church suppers.