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The world is ending

Michael Gerson has written a column about religion that doesn’t make me want to throw things.

At a recent conference of journalists organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Putnam outlined the conclusions of “American Grace,” based on research still being sifted and refined. Against the expectations of hard-core secularists, Putnam asserts, “religious Americans are nicer, happier and better citizens.” They are more generous with their time and money, not only in giving to religious causes but to secular ones. They join more voluntary associations, attend more public meetings, even let people cut in line in front of them more readily. Religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than the unaffiliated. Ned Flanders is a better neighbor.

Against the expectations of many religious believers, this dynamic has little to do with the content of belief. Theology is not the predictor of civic behavior; being part of a community is. People become social joiners and contributors when they have friends who pierce their isolation and invite their participation. And religious friends, says Putnam, are “more powerful, supercharged friends.”

Notwithstanding my hard-core secularism, this is more or less the conclusion at which I’ve arrived. Religion is a powerful social construct here. Europe is different and I haven’t quite reconciled that in my mind yet (their generally more extensive social programs replace some of religion’s functions here?).

I dislike the conclusion, but what can you do? It’s still a bit much to say our society would collapse without religion. A lot would change, but why couldn’t we follow a path similar to some European countries?

Categories: Religion
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