What good is religion? Congregations teach us to give AND receive

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series What good is religion?
Seattle poverty collection box built from a parking meter

NO, it’s not a parking meter, although it was built from one. This is a street-side alms box in Seattle, collecting funds for local poverty-relief programs.

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life. Here is David Briggs’ first column this week

Jesus taught that it was more blessed to give than to receive—and Americans have taken that message to heart. Dr. Wayne Baker’s research for United America concludes that “Self Reliance” is a core value shared by nearly all Americans. We’re happy to help others—but we don’t want to be dependent on others!

In a culture that prizes rugged individualism, and can interpret personal needs as a sign of weakness, many Americans find it is more acceptable to give than to receive. That’s why it’s common to find a member of a congregation who spends years visiting the sick in his parish—but who is fearful to seek pastoral care himself when a loved one contracts AIDS. Or, consider the woman who volunteers to be a mentor to unemployed congregants, but finds herself too embarrassed to seek help herself when she loses her job.

If you’re involved in a congregation yourself, do you know people who follow this pattern?

Whether you’re involved in a congregation, or not, what do you think about Jesus claim: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”?

New research is showing us that this may be a false choice. In fact, it’s most helpful to give and to receive. That’s according to new research just published in a spring 2014 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The study found congregation members who assisted others and received care themselves were dramatically more likely to place “complete trust” in their fellow worshipers than members who only gave or received help.

What’s more, the trust and caring relationships members build in their congregations do not appear to end at the door of the church, temple or mosque. A 2012 research report from the Measuring Morality Study indicates that the most religiously active Americans are more likely to both be trusting and to strive to be compassionate and merciful.

Giving individuals who also are able to accept acts of mercy from others appear most likely to love their neighbors.

What’s your experience?

Do you find it easier to give? Or to receive?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “It is most blessed to give and to receive, studies suggest” at the ARDA website.

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What good is religion? Ask mothers at the margins of society!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Famous TV Moms“Mother.”

Read that word and you’re likely to think of your own Mom. Beyond that, you are likely to remember the thousands of TV Moms we’ve known in network series and commercials. TV images of women are increasingly diverse—but the truth is: White, middle-class women remain the dominant image of motherhood in American culture.

If you’re looking for the true impact of religion in America—and you’re only thinking about these stereotypical Moms—then you’re missing a major part of the family portrait of faith.

In large studies and in-depth interviews, researchers are finding many mothers on the margins of society—whether they are suffering with AIDS in Uganda or living in poverty in the Northeast or in a maximum-security prison in the Midwest—rely on religion and spirituality for a pathway beyond despair to having a sense of hope for the future. Their stories reveal a powerful faith that provides a vision of a better life for them and their children.

Consider these findings from recent studies:

Homeless mothers who feel forgiven by God and are able to forgive themselves and others are significantly more likely to have better mental health, one study found. The “results clarify some of the pathways that may help mothers exit homelessness or avoid it entirely,” said researchers at Arizona State University.

About seven in eight mothers attending an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, reported spirituality helped them with their circumstances, according to a study of 162 sub-Saharan Africans. “Even if friends and family rejected them, women could still find acceptance in the present—and even hope for the future—through their relationship with God,” researchers at Brigham Young University found.

And, prayer was a special source of strength for incarcerated mothers, one study of women in a maximum-security prison found. Talking to God in prayer also gave mothers a sense of hope for the future, even if they had no practical hope to ever leave the prison system, according to a study at Wingate University.

Do these findings surprise you?

Have you seen examples of marginalized women, or men, who feel they are sustained by their faith?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Leaning Inward—Mothers at the margins find hope, support in faith,” at the ARDA website.

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What good is religion? Feeling better about our bodies

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who reports on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Magazine covers on body imageDo you dread walking down the checkout aisle at the supermarket? Do the magazine covers make you angry or anxious?

Young women trapped in a downward spiral of low self-esteem trying to measure up to unrealistic images of thinness and beauty may want to try something more effective than perpetual dieting:

A spiritual makeover.

Worship, prayer and a strong sense of the importance of religion can help teens and 20-somethings with eating disorders overcome feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, new research indicates.

A study of nearly 2,500 young women published online in the Journal of Religion and Health adds weight to other U.S. and international research suggesting religion can be a counter-cultural force in promoting healthy body images.

Want to know more about this research? You can read the entire report, which was reposted in ReadTheSpirit this spring.

Are you surprised by these findings?

Does anyone discuss these issues in your congregation?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You will find all of David’s columns at the ARDA website.

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What good is religion? Divine support may reduce parental stress

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Ancient 10 commandment parchment

The numbering of the 10 Commandments varies by religious tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, “Honor your father and your mother,” is the fifth commandment. Catholics and Lutherans count this admonition as the fourth commandment.

Honoring your mother and father may be on the Top 10 list of commandments—but most parents can tell you that there are times when raising a child can try their souls.

What has been less known is how faith relates to parental stress.

Do religious teachings set up impossibly high standards that increase parental guilt? Or does the idea that God stands with them in times of both joy and anxiety reduce stress and lead to increased parental satisfaction?

The answer is a little of both. But new research suggests that there is a positive relation between some faith practices and beliefs and being a happier mom or dad.

People who regularly attend services were in general more likely to report parental happiness and less likely to say they are overwhelmed by parenting, according to one study of more than 5,500 mothers and fathers that found, “Generally speaking, religiosity is a modestly positive influence on parenting attitudes.”

The belief that “you are doing God’s will” may equip parents with a positive outlook that can help them through the ups and downs of parenthood, says Baylor sociologist Jeremy Uecker. He presented the study, conducted with Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University and W. Matthew Henderson of Baylor, at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York.

What do you think about these findings?

Have you experienced such parental support yourself?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Divine Support May Reduce Parental Stress, Increase Satisfaction” at the ARDA website. Briggs’ longer column included additional details about the complex way these influences may work in families.

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What good is religion? Faith can be a powerful force in marriage

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life. This is his fifth and last column in the series …

Wedding rings

Photo by Jennifer Dickert, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The economics of relationships are shifting, and generally not in a positive way for the institution of marriage.

The recession, the rising financial independence of women and cultural shifts and technological advances that make single-parent families more acceptable and feasible are contributing to fewer people walking down the aisle.

Religious groups are not immune to these trends, but new research indicates faith is a powerful force slowing the decline.

Regular church attenders marry at higher rates, divorce at lower rates, are less likely to engage in extramarital sex and have more children than the general population, one new study found.

And highly religious individuals are most likely to hold up traditional models of marriage despite the financial costs involved, including the loss of income when one parent cares full time for children.

Two studies presented at the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture provide insights into why people of faith are more willing to pay the high costs of marriage and raising families even in an economic downturn.

“Religious incentives play a central role in marriage decisions and should play a role in any economic model of marriage,” researcher Brian Hollar of Marymount University said in his presentation, “Holy matrimony, Batman! Why do the devout pay so much for marriage?”

There are unhappy and abusive unions, but research has indicated numerous benefits associated with married life. Married people, in general, live longer, are happier, have better mental health and are less likely to suffer from long-term illnesses or disabilities, studies have found.

Do these findings seem reasonable in your experience?

Are you married? Is faith a positive factor in your marriage?

Are there ways religion plays a negative role in marriage?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Faithful Unions: Religion Buffers High Cost of Marriage,” at the ARDA website.

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