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Three Cheers for Religion!

The OLD Philosopher – John M. Miller

 Religion gets some well deserved brickbats in the press. Various religious animosities lead to bloodshed throughout the world. Pedophile priests are not sufficiently or justly reprimanded. Clergy badly misbehave in other ways. It all creates bad press.

 Nevertheless, every now and then religion received journalistic kudos. Here are three examples.

Cheer One. In the journal Philanthropy Karl Zinsmeister reported that religion is the biggest factor in motivating Americans to give to charities. He found that the average annual charitable contribution of those who attend services weekly is $2,935. That is more than four times the amount contributed by those who never attend religious services. Of those who attend weekly or pray daily, 45% do volunteer work, compared to 27% of the nonreligious, who do not.

“In study after study,” said Mr. Zinsmeister, “religious practice is the behavior variable with the strongest and most consistent association with generous giving.” Furthermore religious people give $44 billion a year to overseas charities, which is more than the US government budgets for humanitarian foreign aid.

Cheer Two. The Pew Research Center took a poll on the subjects of religious affiliation, happiness, and civic engagement. People were asked to identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated,” “religiously inactive,” or “religiously active.”

When asked if they are very happy, 25% of the unaffiliated said they were happy, 25% of the inactive, and 36% of the active. (Sadly, there’s not a lot of happiness for anybody these days. Well, maybe it has something to do with these particular days.)

Regarding belonging to at least one nonreligious civic organization: 39% unaffiliated belong; 51% inactive; 58% active. Always vote in national elections: 40% unaffiliated; 59% inactive; 69% active. The religiously active are more electorally involved than the religiously inactive.

Cheer Three. According to ABC News, a social worker from Washington State named Alan Naiman left an estate of $11 million. It benefitted children’s charities for the poor, sick, and disabled. The unmarried Mr. Naiman had a disabled brother, which made him more personally aware of the needs and difficulties of certain kinds of people.

Those familiar with Alan Naiman knew him to be exceedingly thrifty. He sought deals at the deli at closing time, fixed his shoes with duct tape, and drove only old cars. He also took part-time jobs to supplement his income.

ABC did not report whether this remarkable philanthropist attended religious services. However, by certain observations in the Bible, especially those of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and James, the brother of Jesus, in his New Testament letter, he was the epitome of a religious person. Alan Naiman was supremely religious in one of the best senses possible, whatever his actual religious leanings may have been.

So: Three Cheers for Religion! For all its many faults, it inspires people to reach beyond themselves for the good of their fellow earthlings. And thus they are welcomed into the kingdom of God on earth.  


John Miller is Pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC.

More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwalls.org.










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