A new study this week trumpets religion as an economic blessing to America. Quantifying the value of faith, however, must go beyond dollar figures.
The study, sponsored by Faith Counts, a group affiliated with various religious organizations, including this paper’s owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offers several different metrics for analyzing the magnitude of religions financial impact on the nation’s economy.
The study’s authors Brian Grim and Melissa Grim of Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute respectively, observe that even their most conservative estimates put the financial contribution of religion to the U.S. economy well beyond that of Google, Amazon, and Apple combined. Yet, by other measures, the authors say that the total dollar figure may be as high as $1.2 trillion annually.
At a time when some question the value of religion, the new study — titled "The Socio-economic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis," — offers a strong rebuttal. But to fully quantify the significance of faith in America, researchers must go beyond monetary figures to examine the powerful ways in which faith shapes individual lives.
Religious people, for example, tend to feel happier, and, according to the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life, those who pray at least once a day and attend weekly church services engage in volunteer work at much higher rates; they are significantly more likely to donate time, money or goods to the poor; they are more likely to gather with their extended family and to say they’re “very satisfied” with family life.
The core values of those who are unaffiliated with a particular religion are in many ways comparable with self-described Christians. A majority of both, for example, believe in “gratitude for what they have,” and in being “honest at all times.” Many so-called religious “nones” also believe spending time with family is essential to being a moral person.
Yet, a strong connection with religion, it appears, nudges people to make good on their values. If integrity means being true to personal principles, religion, it would seem, aids believers in living out the pro-social behaviors that suggest one is indeed grateful. The "very religious" are in fact more likely to spend time with family, not just to say that doing so is important.
Of course, there’s no way to definitely know if religion is a cause or merely a correlate of such behavior. Are people with these attributes predisposed toward religion or does religion shape and mold them in more pro-social ways? Nor does this study explore the potential negative impacts of zealotry or extreme fundamentalism which some consider anti-social. But increasingly, survey results and social science data support what countless religious individuals have long proselytized, that faith has immense value which extends well beyond financial figures to transform individual lives for the better.