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Are You A None?

May 8, 2009

Michael Gerson has an editorial in the Washington Post discussing the upcoming book from Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone. The new book, “American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives,” takes a look at religiosity in American and comes to some interesting and unexpected conclusions. He asserts, for example, that self-described religious people,

[a]gainst 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.

That conclusion, however, isn’t buttressed by the usual theological rationale. Instead, Putnam argues that

[a]gainst 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.”

Community and religion have always gone hand in hand and, apparently, in a time of ever-increasing social distance–for lack of a better term– people are returning to religion as a means of closing the gap between themselves and their neighbors. The content of their beliefs is less important, it seems, then the shared sense of being part of a group of believers.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. john permalink
    May 8, 2009 12:01 pm

    I wonder if this book takes into consideration “where” the religious and non-religious live. People in isolated small communities are going to be inherently more communal and i would suspect they are also likely to be more religious. Not to mention the fact that group that the editorial seems to be wringing its hands about, people in their 20s, have always been notoriously selfish. People are also having children much later, and children are another factor that makes people more communal.

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