Religion in America: taking stock, finding common bonds

November 29, 2003

By Tom Schaefer at The Wichita Eagle

And you thought you were up to speed about religion in America…

Psst. Want a tip on the stock market?

If you’re paying attention, you know the stock market has steadily moved upward in the past year. So, where should you invest some of your dollars?

A new study by Opinion Research Corp. has found that Americans who are religious have specific business ethics concerns when it comes to their investments.

The top five are: use of sweatshops, product safety record, high CEO pay, environmental record and adult entertainment. Notice that only one “sin” issue (the last one) made the list.

And how many investors are religious? The survey of 2,096 people found that 57 percent are investors, and 80 percent of that group consider themselves religious.

The survey, conducted in September, had an error margin of 3 percent.

Never knew you had so much potential clout in the corporate world, did you?

Here’s another survey, but a more troubling one. First, see if you can answer the following question put to college undergraduates: What does the First Amendment guarantee?

If you answered “freedom of speech,” you’re only half right.

According to a survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 25 percent of undergraduates were unable to list any freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and only 30 percent knew that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

There’s a lot more to the survey, which you can read online at

The survey’s results should set off an alarm, said Alan Charles Kors, president of the foundation: “If the American experiment in liberty is to survive, citizens must both keep alive and cherish the free exchange of ideas, values, and convictions.”

But then he adds: “These survey results are disheartening, but they unfortunately are not surprising.”

They aren’t? They certainly should be.

Are religious people more likely to give to charities than those who are non-religious?

A study reported in Policy Review Online by Arthur C. Brooks, associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University, says it’s true.

“The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).

“And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior.”

For the full report, go online to

Are we a nation run amok with religion?

That seems to be the opinion of Europeans, as reported in the Economist magazine.

A Nov. 6 article titled “Therapy of the Masses” contends that Europeans see religion as the “strangest and most disturbing feature of American exceptionalism” (what makes this country unique).

As many Europeans see it, religion should be on the decline as a nation becomes wealthier and “enlightened.” But the article points out, based on studies at the Institute on Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, the opposite is true:

“Few developing countries have shown signs of religious decline as their standards of living have risen. It may be Europe that is the exception here, not America.”

The article goes on to provide other interesting — and sometimes surprising — facts about the current mood of religion in America: Belief is becoming “more intense” in this country, especially among evangelicals and Pentecostals; most Americans do not join a church for political reasons or “to sit in judgment on miserable sinners”; and churches come and go “with astonishing speed.”

So how should current-day religion in America be described? The Economist draws us a picture:

“Religious belief has the profile of a Volkswagen Beetle: a bump of evangelical Protestants at the front, a bigger bulge of uncensorious congregations in the middle and a stubby secular tail.”

So much for religion “running amok in America.”

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