Happier, Healthier, and More Charitable

September 19, 2007 | 14 comments
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A Venerable Bede links to several sources showing that at least in the United States, believers tend to be happier, healthier, and more charitable. The pseudonomyous Theodore Dalrymple has something similar to say. (hat tip: John C. Wright)

In my own experience, most of us religious people are pretty lousy people, no better than the common run of everyone else, but the few saints I’ve known have been disproportionately religious. The best use to which we can probably put these kinds of evidences is to reflect on the kind of person we could be given the excellences of our religion and the power of Christ’s grace and compare it to the kind of person we are. We might ask ourselves if Christ died on the cross so we could be decent Joes.

I suppose we could also put these things to apologetic use. I don’t think they’re hard proof, since quite likely people who find it easier to be good find it easier to stay believers (correlation does not equal causation, in other words). But they do create a space for belief and a challenge to unbelief. I suppose one could also use these things in a President Hinckley kind of way–while not denying how far onward we have to go, taking satisfaction that with all our trying we have managed to move a little.

14 Responses to Happier, Healthier, and More Charitable

  1. Adam Greenwood on September 19, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    Incidentally, when you link over to the Venerable Bede website, check out this post on the top 10 myths about Christianity (principally during the Middle Ages) and science:
    http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/2007/09/top-tens-and-other-matters.html

    And the go read Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. I don’t think Flynn is a believer but its one of the best Christian SF books I’ve ever read, right up by A Canticle for Liebowitz. Its one of the best SF books I’ve ever read, Christian or no.

  2. Alan Jackson on September 19, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    “In my own experience, most of us religious people are pretty lousy people, no better than the common run of everyone else.”

    For these common people, are you saying that you believe that the practice of religion has not made them any better?

    While religious people on the whole are not all saints and perfect, I believe that on the people are generally better after they attend church, attend the temple, pray, study scriptures etc (pick your activity), averaging for those who get nothing out of it, hypocrites, and those that are truly striving to be better people.

    What is the point of all the learning and preaching we do if we can’t behave better than the common run? Is it just the ordinances we have that others don’t? Was Christ fooling himself when he thought he could gather a group of believers with higher standards than everyone that didn’t have his teachings?

  3. Adam Greenwood on September 19, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I’m a conservative and a pessimist, sir. Having most of us at the average, or even slightly above it, is quite an accomplishment in my mind.

  4. Alan Jackson on September 19, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    My post may have come off a little more harsh than I meant it to sound, and if so I apologize.

    My point was how can a group of people meeting the average be an accomplishment? It is almost the definition of the starting point or no effect. While not coming from a scientific standpoint, we almost have to believe that saints are doing better than the average or the gospel doesn’t work.

  5. Blain on September 19, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I’m not religious to be better than you. I’m religious to be a better me. And it works.

  6. Ivan Wolfe on September 19, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    And the go read Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. I don’t think Flynn is a believer but its one of the best Christian SF books I’ve ever read, right up by A Canticle for Liebowitz. Its one of the best SF books I’ve ever read, Christian or no.

    I Love, love, love Canticle for Leibowitz. It’s too bad that the “sort of sequel” St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horsewoman turned out to be one of the worst anti-Christian SF books I’ve ever read.

  7. Adam Greenwood on September 19, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    My point was how can a group of people meeting the average be an accomplishment? It is almost the definition of the starting point or no effect.

    Well, for one, I think the fact that the world as a whole hasn’t spiraled down into total savagery is quite an accomplishment. But I do think the Saints as a whole are probably somewhat above average. In my experience, most Saints are average or slightly above average, with more than the normal number of saints and less than the normal number of villains.

  8. Ray on September 19, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Alan, I don’t know where you live, and it’s really hard to see a difference in many instances where the majority are Mormon and there are plenty of bad examples, but here where I live the difference is striking – truly striking. We are not an affluent ward; working class would be a very good description. If you exclude the inactive members (which I think you need to do in this type of comparison), the percentage of our kids in this area who are involved in the gifted program in our school district is WAY higher than any other group of which I’m aware. The percentage that are in some kind of disciplinary trouble is WAY lower. The civic and extra-curricular activity (especially in the performing arts) is extraordinary.

    I have worked in school systems in this state and throughout the Eastern US, and what I have observed in this area is quite indicative of what I have seen just about everywhere else I have traveled. When I asked if there is a group of kids that just seem to have it all together – for which the educators have very few concerns academically and socially (the areas of my focus), the most common answer I got was the Mormon kids. Sometimes I got twisted justifications for that lack of concern (versions of “They’re going to Hell, but they don’t cause any problems.”), but the effects of the Church and the Restored Gospel were evident – perhaps not objective, but evident. *grin*

  9. Mike on September 19, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    The linked article measures charity in terms of the giving of money, time, etc. I think that’s a very superficial measure of charity. How do you measure how much of the love of Christ someone has? How many times have you given your shoulder for someone to cry on this week? How many times did you smile at a stranger walking by who was looking depressed? And different people may have different ways of demonstrating charity. We each have different gifts we are given to share with others. I don’t think it possible to measure charity in any meaningful way except for in oneself and, to a lesser extent, those you know personally.

    If you measure charity in terms of how much someone gives, how do you know that you’re not just finding that religious people tend to have more extra money and time? I’ve also heard to we Mormons tend to be more financially secure due to a strong work ethic, good upbringing, etc. It could have nothing to do with true charity. Is Bill Gates more charitable than I? I don’t know, but according to this measure he’s about 1000000 times more charitable.

    Actively religious people probably are more charitable, but studies that try to prove it quantitatively are entertainment at best, in my opinion.

  10. Mike on September 19, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Pardon me that I failed to realize they were using “charity” in the secular meaning of the word. Still, I stand by my point that it is impossible to quantitatively measure the “goodness” of people by such superficial measures. That might not be exactly what these studies are trying to do, but that’s often how they are interpreted, “X group of people are better than Y group because they do Z”.

  11. Ardis Parshall on September 19, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Mike, I agree with you of course about your expanded meaning of “charity.” I did think it was very interesting, though, that one of the actions the study measured was blood donation — that’s a gift that is possible for almost everyone, regardless of wealth, something that takes time and effort in a different way from writing a check. It also requires the giver to be tuned to the needs of others in a way that is also different in that we’re not bombarded with ingenious methods for getting at our blood the way we are for getting at our money. Whether religion is responsible for that awareness of human need, or whether the awareness comes first and tends to draw people toward religion, or whether there is some other (or no) connection, I don’t pretend to know. I did like the fact that the study looked at more than monetary contributions.

  12. Adam Greenwood on September 19, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Loving your neighbor involves more than just money but your money durn well better be involved. Mouthing platitudes while keeping your wallet closed won’t cut it if you can afford to give.

  13. Kirk on September 20, 2007 at 4:24 am

    #5 I’m not religious to be better than you. I’m religious to be a better me. And it works.

    I think that’s a really fair and honest statement, though it does potentially put religion on an equal playing field with any secular activity that accomplishes the same objective: volunteering for something, sports, reading good books, creative activity, spending time with your kids.

    I always find the concept of ‘being a better person’ a bit nebulous.

    #12 Wow. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    This ‘average’ thing. Maybe there are two kinds of religious people. Those who practice it for salvation, out of fear of death, or even, heck, fear of life. And those who practice it because it’s an intrinsically good way of life, regardless of whether it will really get them to heaven. In the former category you get the ‘average’, people striving to do the minimum to ensure their salvation. In the second category you get those who are “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness”.

    The gospel should automatically lead to the second category being the most common, but strangely it often doesn’t.

  14. Mike on September 20, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    #12 I agree that giving money important if you can, but I don’t think you can say that a person is twice as good as another person if they give twice the amount of money (or twice the percentage of income, or however you count it), and you can’t even say that that person is better at all. That’s like if I went to the doctor for a physical and he took my blood pressure and said, “You’re blood pressure looks good, so you must be healthy. See you next year.” BP is important, but there’s a lot more to health.

    #11 I think you have a good point. It’s tought to come up with an alterior motive to giving blood other than helping others. I can think of alterior motives for giving money though, which is another reason I don’t consider it a very good metric.

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