... Given that some of these countries have performed about as well or better than the U.S. in recent years, one might conclude that the historic link between religious faith and material progress — so central to the work of Max Weber – has been irretrievably broken. Yet in reality, the religious connection with economic growth may be still far more important than is commonly supposed.
Many in the pundit class identify religion as something of a regressive tendency, embraced by the less enlightened, the less skilled, intelligent and educated. Yet some scholars, such as Charles Murray, point out that religious affiliation is weakening most not among the middle and upper classes but among the poorer and less educated who traditionally looked to churches for succor and moral instruction. Secularism may have not hurt the uber-rich or the academic overclass so far, but it appears to have helped expand our lumpenproleteriat.
Some might be surprised to learn that religious affiliation grows with education levels. A new University of Nebraska study finds that with each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased by 15%. The educated, the study found, may not be eschewing religion, as social science has long maintained, even if their spiritual views tend to be less narrow, and less overtly tied to politics, than among the less schooled.
Overall the most cohesive religious groups — such as Mormons and Jews — still outperform their religious counterparts both in educational achievement and income. Both Jews and Mormons focus on helping their co-religionists, providing a leg up on those who depend solely on the charity of others or the state. In countries with a substantial historical Protestant influence such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands continue to outperform economic the heavily Catholic nations like Italy, Ireland and Spain, according to a recent European study. The difference, they speculate, may be in Protestant traditions of self-help, frugality and emphasis on education. None of this, of course, would have been surprising to Max Weber. ...
... There may be other positive fiscal effects of religiosity. Religious people donate on average far more to charities than their secular counterparts, including those unaffiliated with a religion. Nearly 15% of the religious volunteer every week compared to just 10% among the secular.
Social networks, much celebrated among the single, might provide people with voices, but religious organizations actually do something about meeting real human needs. Organized religion provides a counterweight to the European notion that we must rely on government for everything. Poor people educated or fed by the charities of mosques, churches, and synagogues relieves some of the burden faced by our variously tottering states and shredding social welfare nets. Aging baby boomers, notes author Ted Fishman, may be forced to rely more on the “kindness of strangers” from religious backgrounds to take care of them in their old age.
Sadly few prominent religious leaders deliver this message effectively, often preferring to scold non-believers. This is unfortunate since what the faithful do in the real world, at home and in their communities, may prove ever more crucial to the viability of our societies in the future. ...