religion

religion

The Infrastructure that Donald Trump Can Do Little About

elections, family, marriage, religion No comments

The election results stimulated myriad projections for change about the political and economic future, but at the foundational levels of society, marriage and worship, nothing changed this past week.

Political elections are about who gets to control the instruments of power.  But the fundamental work of rebuilding society from the ground up — restoring marriage and turning back to worshipping God weekly — remains in a realm beyond the instrumental tools of government. These fundamentals, so necessary for a functional society, remain untouched by the elections.

And yet the need to change these fundamentals is critical if the goods of politics are to bear fruit.  Otherwise it is all for naught in the medium to long term.  One good revolution (French, Russian, Chinese or Cambodian) can wipe out a lot overnight.

Marriage and religious practice are all about “belonging” — belonging to spouse and children and to God.  But belonging is not something we can manufacture for others, and it certainly is not something government can distribute, transfer or manufacture.  Belonging is the result of attraction — a fulfilled two-way attraction.  However, and this is key, it can start as a one-way attraction.  Many a brave man has proven this by wooing, and eventually winning, the reluctant woman of his dreams.  “Faint heart never won fair lady.”   She gradually came to see how attractive he really was.  But no man (not even the most radical of progressives) has ever turned to government to help him be more attractive to the woman of his dreams.  So to where and to whom do we turn for this rebuilding, this “sine qua non” of social policy, if not to government?  Is not social policy all about government?

This is the fundamental political question for all who want to see society get back on track.  Donald Trump can wield political instruments that will affect the economy, the army, medicine and even education (to a degree), but neither he nor his cabinet can improve marriage or levels of worship through policy initiatives. Yet, of all aspects of the United States, these are the “infrastructure” that needs rebuilding.

This family belonging, which is only full of its power when it means marital belonging between mother and father, is the glue that holds society together.  This lies, not in the realm of government (except to protect or destroy), but in the realm of “the people”.  Belonging is beyond the reach or competence of government.  Sure, big government can do and has done lots to wreck it–as in abortion, in sex education that undermines chastity and marriage, in laws that removed restraints on sex outside of marriage, or in liberal Supreme Courts, such as one that would have occurred under Hillary Clinton, that injects such principles into the legal system.  But the work of rebuilding lies in the heart of the citizen, not in the powers of government.

The social infrastructure of every inner city needs to be rebuilt. It depends on the capacity of millennials to stay married, to grow when adversity hits a marriage so that they mature into strong adults rather than wimp into a rejection that damages their children. Who can do that? Certainly not the instruments of government.

We can only turn to ourselves, and within ourselves to God.  We either attract others to chastity, marriage and worship or we repel them.  We are all either walking advertisements for marriage or effective propaganda against it. People expect a deep joy (even in painful times — especially in painful times) from marriage and family: we either deliver on this in our personal lives or we don’t.  Belonging is caught by contact, by seeing it, by experiencing it up close.  By being invited in.

Belonging is a very different social policy paradigm, but it is the only one that works.

Confusing Research on the Impact of Religion on Children’s Altruism

children, religion, social science 1 comment

A recent study by Jean Decety of the University of Chicago and his collagues sets up an experiment based on sticker-sharing and fake pushing among religious and non-religious children to arrive at a pretty hefty conclusion: “[The findings] call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness—in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

One might say that this conclusion is laughable, but the media reaction was disturbing. The web was bombarded with headlines claiming “Religious Kids Tend to Be Mean and Selfish Little Jerks,” “Religion Makes Children More Selfish,” and “Religious Children are Meaner than Their Secular Counterparts.” But despite these claims, rigorous social science has shown that religious practice delivers incomparable benefits to society. It is normal and healthy for academics to disagree on the impact of religious practice on different aspects of life. Over the long haul, this helps to clarify reality. However, it is an entirely different pursuit, and not an intellectually honest one, for researchers to intend to knock down religious beliefs and practice. Decety et al. may be doing the latter; their future research will tell. In this study, their handling of the known literature on religious practice and their poor method raises concern that, rather than seeking to add clarity to knowledge, they are only adding confusion.

Past research has repeatedly confirmed the overwhelmingly positive impact that frequent religious practice has on societal outcomes. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) has shown that 44 percent of adults who attended religious services monthly or more as an adolescent have volunteered in charitable activities within the past year, whereas 33 percent of those who attended monthly or never volunteered. Arthur Brooks, then a researcher at Syracuse University and now president of the American Enterprise Institute, conducted the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) that drew almost 30,000 observations from fifty U.S. communities, and used rigorous regression to control for political beliefs, income, education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. Brooks found that, when all controls are applied, religious people are 23 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to donate money, and 26 percent more likely to volunteer. On average, a religious person gives $1,388 more than a secular person, and volunteers on 6.5 more occasions.

Moreover, Brooks points out that “Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as religious ones.” Religious people are 7 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 percent more likely to help the poor or elderly, 26 percent more likely to volunteer in school/ youth programs, and 10 percent more likely to give to charitable causes.

Just last year a major German-Swiss study investigating issues similar to Decety’s summarized:

The question of whether religiosity is linked to prosocial behavior is currently hotly debated in psychology. This research contributes to this debate by showing that the nature of individuals’ religious orientations and their relationships to prosociality depend on their country’s social enforcement of religiosity. Our analyses of data from more than 70 countries indicate that in countries with no social pressure to follow a religion, religious individuals are more likely to endorse an intrinsic religious orientation (Study 1), engage in charity work (Study 2), disapprove of lying in their own interests (Study 3), and are less likely to engage in fraudulent behaviors (Study 4) compared with non-religious individuals. Ironically, in secular contexts, religious individuals are also more likely to condemn certain moral choices than non-religious individuals (Study 2). These effects of religiosity substantially weaken (and ultimately disappear) with increasing national levels of social enforcement of religiosity.

Let us look a bit more closely at the Decety study. Here are some of the primary mistakes in it:

1.  The reputation of religion now rests on stickers and bumping. Essentially, researchers assessed the altruism of religious and non-religious children by the children’s willingness to share stickers. Each child was presented thirty stickers and told to choose his/ her ten favorite. Next, researchers told the child that there weren’t enough stickers for all the children, and asked the child to anonymously place any stickers he/ she would be willing to share in an envelope. Christian children placed an average of 3.33 stickers, Muslims placed 3.20, and non-religious children placed 4.09.

Next, researchers measured how judgmental religious and non-religious children are by showing each child a series of dynamic scenarios in which one person is pushing or bumping another person (either purposefully or accidently), and assessing the child’s reactions. Muslim children labeled the interpersonal harm as meaner than did Christian children, and Christian children judged the actions to be meaner than non-religious children. Muslim children gave harsher ratings of punishment for the pushers, while there was no significant difference in punishment ratings between Christian and non-religious children.

The response that comes to mind: Give me a break.  That this rather simple study be flaunted to the lay public as proof of the impact of religion is an insult to the academy and to the profession of journalism. 

2. They use an unrepresentative sample. Lead researcher Jean Decety assessed 1,170 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years from six countries to represent the actions of religious children across the world. In the sample, 23.9 percent identified as Christian, 43 percent as Muslim, 27.6 percent as not religious, and 5.2 percent as either Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, or other (0.3 percent are unaccounted for). There are a number of problems with this sample that the authors do not address.

First: Children were selected from Chicago (United States), Toronto (Canada), Amman (Jordan), Izmir and Istanbul (Turkey), Cape Town (South Africa), and Guangzhou (China). It is peculiar, to say that least, that, in a study assessing how religious sentiments are manifested in behavior, researchers include countries that do not allow the free practice of religion. That alone skews and invalidates the results, as the German-Swiss study shows.

Second: The child samples seem to be opportunity samples (or snowball samples). The co-authors are all psychologists, and therefore accustomed to extrapolating from numbers not nationally representative, much less globally representative. The children seem to be from the cities where the different co-authors work.  That is far from nationally random and far from representative.

Third: The breakdown of religions in the sample does not reflect the world’s breakdown of religions. In the study, 23.9 percent are Christian and 43 percent are Muslim; in actuality, 31.4 percent of the world is Christian and 23.2 percent is Muslim.

Four: The sample consists of children ages 5 to 12 years old—a period of major developmental change for children, including significant changes in notions of justice. For academics, experiments help clarify the psychological aspects of altruistic behavior of children in mid-childhood. Only after years of research that control for an increasing number of variables will these experiments yield insights. 

Five:  The study broadly concludes that religion is bad for altruism.  If that conclusion were granted, an even bigger challenge remains for the authors: What is it about religious practice that, in the years between childhood and adulthood, flips the results so that suddenly religion encourages prosociality (as it does for adults)? From academics hostile to religion (and hostility to religion is overrepresented in academia) the response can be anticipated: Religion has nothing to do with people being good. This very argument seems to be the objective of Roy Sablosky’s “Does Religion Foster Generosity?

3. The measures used seem far removed from reality. These researchers determined that generosity in our world is best understood by sticker-sharing and contrived acts of meanness. However, that fails the common-sense credulity test.  The professors need to come up with more realistic experiments.

Professor Luke Galen of the University of Nebraska has spearheaded much of the research debate on these issues, especially in his 2012 publication, “Does Religious Belief Promote Prosociality? A Critical Examination.” The conclusion of the abstract states:  “These factors necessitate a revision of the religious pro-sociality hypothesis and suggest that future research should incorporate more stringent controls in order to reach less ambiguous conclusions.”   

Galen is correct. Religious practice and teachings have an intricate impact on the everyday functioning of society, and should be further investigated. Religion has nothing to fear and everything to gain when the social sciences tease out the variables in play. 

The Root of Wealth Inequality: Race or Family Upbringing?

family structure, Great Recession, Pew Research, race, religion, wealth inequality No comments

According to a recent Pew report, the racial/ ethnic wealth divide has widened since the Great Recession. Commentators have already begun to speculate plausible rationales for this gap: inability for minorities to replenish savings, differences in financial assets, or disparate accumulations of wealth. But each of these explanations evades the two root issues at hand: family structure and frequency of religious worship.

Family structure. The intact, married family consistently produces the best economic benefits and averts financial woes. Pew’s report measured race/ ethnicity without controlling for family structure. Because the rate of family intactness is higher among whites (54 percent) than blacks (17 percent) and Hispanics (41 percent), “whites” as a racial class seemed best off.

However, as Chart 1 shows, family structure cannot be ignored. Marriage is associated with lower rates of poverty, independent of race. So, for example, the poverty rate for single white mothers is three times higher than the poverty rate for married black families. Further investigation will likely show that the true wealth divide following the Great Recession is between intact and non-intact families, especially single mothers on welfare. As Sheldon Danziger concluded back in 1986, families on welfare are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty because their income is disconnected from the market-based economy. Even if the economy improves, the welfare recipient’s income remains stagnant.

The importance of family structure in an improving economy is conveyed in the Iowa Youth and Families Project, widely regarded as having the richest archive of life record data on rural families and children in the United States. Over a series of decades, researchers collected data on two-parent families during and after the Iowa Farm Crisis—the worst decline in America since the 1930s. They found that the children from two-parent families from Iowa farms, despite faring worse than any other group, improved the most due to their strong family relations, productive roles, ties to grandparents, ties to their community, and resourcefulness. Recovery from the Great Recession is linked to similar familial and community factors.

Frequency of religious worship. The intact married family may fare well following economic recessions, but the intact married family that worships frequently will fare best during and after these times of difficulty. Couples whose marriages lasted 30 years or more reported that their faith helped them to deal with hard times, and was a source of moral guidance in making decisions and dealing with conflict. Adolescents whose mothers attend religious services at least weekly display better health, greater problem-solving skills, and higher overall satisfaction with their lives, regardless of race, gender, income, or family structure. An increase in religious practice is associated with greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life, and religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness.

Beyond personal hope and well-being, religiosity confers many benefits on society as a whole. Religious attendance is associated with direct decreases in both minor and major forms of crime and deviance, to an extent unrivalled by government welfare programs. Religious individuals are 40 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to give money to charities. Compared to their secular counterparts, religious individuals are more than twice as likely to volunteer. Recovering from a depleted economy requires communal support; this support is most readily available in communities with high levels of religious participation … something that is free to anyone who wants it.

Pew’s study of wealth inequality is certainly thought-provoking; however, it is futile to discover such gaps in society if we fail to cure their causes. Reviving all of society following the Great Recession mandates an immediate attention to restoring the intact married family that worships frequently.   

Ebola Scare Points to Power of Prayer

Ebola, Health, religion No comments


Although the Ebola epidemic has wrought an international scare, it has also shined forth a new ray of confidence in the power of prayer and trust in God.  Both American nurses who survived their battles with Ebola, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, praised God for their health. Not long after her release, Pham said, “I first and foremost would like to thank God, my family and friends. Throughout this ordeal I have put my trust in God and my medical team. I believe in the power of prayer because I know so many people all over the world have been praying for me.” Vinson also thanked Our Lord, and added, “I sincerely believe that with God all things are possible.”
Pham’s and Vinson’s faith are beautiful testimonies to the immutable fact that social science has long confirmed: religious practice contributes to a wide range of physical health benefits. Studies show that men and women who attend church weekly have the lowest mortality rates. Religious practice delivers longevity benefits, most significantly by encouraging a support network among family and friends that helps to maintain a pattern of regimented care, reducing one’s mortality risk from infectious diseases and diabetes. This greater longevity is consistently and significantly correlated with higher levels of religious practice and involvement, regardless of the sex, race, education, or health history of those studied. Furthermore, a literature review of medical, public health, and social science literature that empirically addressed the link between religion and mortality found that religious practice decreases mortality rates. Those who are religiously involved live an average of seven years longer than those who are not. Astonishingly, this gap is as great as that between non-smokers and those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.
The benefits of religious practice to African Americans and youth are particularly pronounced. For example, the average life span of religious blacks is 14 years longer than that of their nonreligious peers. Adolescents whose mothers attend religious services at least weekly display better health, greater problem-solving skills, and higher overall satisfaction with their lives, regardless of race, gender, income, or family structure. Youths who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are more likely to eat healthfully, sleep sufficiently, and exercise regularly. Correspondingly, young people who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving, riding with drunk drivers, driving without a seatbelt, or engaging in interpersonal violence. They are also less likely to smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or drink heavily
Religious practice also contributes to mental health benefits. An increase in religious practice is associated with having greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life. Religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness. According to a review of 100 studies, people who are frequently involved in religious activities and highly value their religious faith are at reduced risk of depression. Furthermore, religious practice correlates with reduced incidence of suicide, as demonstrated by 87 percent of the studies reviewed in a 2002 meta-analysis. By contrast, a lack of religious affiliation correlates with an increased risk of suicide.

MARRI research, like “95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice,” highlights the wide range of benefits that religious practice brings to the individual, family, and community. Pham and Vinson are living testimonies to the power of faith.

The People-Forming Institutions: Preparing the Soil

children, church, education, family, MARRI, religion, social institutions No comments
By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

Although there are five basic institutions in society, only three of them are what I call “person-forming”.  The marketplace and government function to protect individuals and to provide for goods and services, but they do not function to directly form the individual.  It is the family, the church, and the school that shape character, instill moral principles (which are universal and timeless), and which develop the person as a whole.  Thus these three institutions serve society in this, the most foundational and critical of its long range tasks.  They each play a direct role in the formation of a person as he moves toward adulthood—additionally, the marketplace and government rely on the primacy of these three person-forming institutions in order to have people capable of serving in their economic and citizen roles.

Why are the institutions of family, church, and school able to form an individual while the institutions of marketplace and government are not?  The answer profoundly impacts our national discussion about policies and their implications.  Even more importantly, as we delve deeply into this question, we can see more clearly what it means to be human.

There is something foundational to human life that the institutions of marketplace and government simply cannot provide: it is the intimate relational formation of a person.  People’s deepest need is relational—love, care, affection, and personalized guidance.  In the family, a child finds the nurturing intimacy he needs.  In the church, he finds the relational intimacy with the divine that speaks to his soul’s questions.  In the school, through good relationships with his teachers, he learns how to understand the world in which he will soon act.  The marketplace and the government are the institutions through which he can later exercise who he has become through the shaping of his family, church, and school.  When it comes to directly forming who he is, however, marketplace and government have significantly less direct impact—though, in their proper context, laws can teach a great deal, and services from the dark side of the economy can corrupt (e.g. pornography).

As we will explore in future blog postings, the consequences are grave if we misunderstand the distinct nature of the person-forming institutions.  To return to our farming analogy: it is ignorant and futile for a farmer to expect abundant crops and sustainable returns without first preparing the soil for harvest, planting good seeds, and caring for the land.  Failure to do so results in stunted crop growth and insufficient income for the farmer.

Similarly, we must protect the “three sacred spaces” of family, church and school to permit the harmonizing of the person-forming tasks:  the family, where the child most deeply develops as a relating and belonging person; the church, where he orients himself to life and its big issues; and the school, where he learns about the world around him and how to make sense of it.  As the farming analogy shows, a child’s future productivity and stability depend on the person-forming institutions’ foundational actions.  Giving improper weight to the instrumental institutions—or disconnecting the person-forming ones from each other—will lead to societal destabilization (indeed, this is already happening).  When families are treasured and intact, when those families worship God weekly, and when schools aid the work of parents in teaching children according to their worldviews: children from such families thrive, and a society made of these families grows in well-being.  Such is the task of each generation—of all societies, across the globe.  These are universal truths.

The Basic Tasks of Society

chastity, economy, education, family, generations, religion No comments

By: Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern

As is shown in the diagram above, it is helpful to understand society as a relationship between five basic institutions or the five fundamental tasks: Family, Church, School, Marketplace, and Government.  Each institution is really a gathering of people to perform a core task that is essential and irreplaceable.  If all five tasks are well-performed, society is doing well. If one of them is not engaging properly with its given task, society begins to limp. If two institutions don’t perform well, society’s limping gets more pronounced, and so on.
At the base of society lies the family—the begetting and raising of children, the next generation.   Without this task society will disappear.  Because the family is focused on producing the next generation, it harnesses sexuality for its ultimate end.  Because children need the love and care of both their father and their mother (and thrive better when such is the case), marriage is the solid foundation.  Though the child comes naturally from sexual union (very little work), marriage comes only with a lot of work and effort.   Since everything else in the society relies on the strength of the family, marriage is key to the success of society as a whole.  A society is as vibrant as its fathers and mothers are solidly married.  The object of it all is the next generation.
The church (shorthand for all religions—church, synagogue, mosque) is where man can orient himself to the big questions of existence:  Is there right and wrong, life after death, a creator God?  Should I keep my word, love those in my family, forgive those who hurt me, give to the needy?  This is important work and like everything else in life, the more one works at something the better he does it.  Worshiping God in community normally involves all these aspects of this task of religion.  As this blog will illustrate repeatedly, the more people worship the better they do—on every outcome.  This little known finding is so universal and so powerful that it ought to be commonplace in our national thinking and discussion.  Its object is the good person. 
School (education) is the task of passing on critical knowledge to the next generation so that they can build upon the knowledge already gained from previous generations.  Education almost always has two actors: the pupil and the teacher, the player and the coach.  Education is not confined to the classroom: it goes on, first, foremost and most powerfully, in the home; it goes on at work; in the cinema; in the library; in the newspaper.   Its objective is passing on sound knowledge and insights.
These three institutions—family, church and school— are all “people forming” institutions; they “grow” the person.  Their object is the “goodness of each individual”.
The marketplace is where we meet our physical needs of shelter, food, and clothing—a most fundamental task, without which we would die.  We gain these physical goods through an exchange of our labor for the goods we need.  Savings are stored labor of the past (our labor or others’).  The more productive labor a nation has, the more goods it has.  Working, and learning to work productively, is a key task of the family: both for its own continued existence and for the capacity of the next generation to feed, clothe and shelter itself.  When people refuse to work, they become dependent on others for their needs—this weakens society and, ipso facto, reduces the economy.
The government has the task of using force for the good of society, mainly protecting our freedoms from “bad people”:  external enemies of the intruding armies of attacking nations, or internal enemies who would rob, injure or kill us or our family or friends.  Because both threats exist, it is the primary job of the government to protect its citizens from both these evils.  Laws lay out what government considers right and wrong, and it backs this up with the policeman, the judge, the jail, or even the execution… all manifestations of force, even the ultimate force of death.  For this reason, our police need to be above reproach, for they alone have the power to execute on the spot.  No other person in society has this power.  The object of government is to protect its citizenry’s right to do good.
These two institutions, though they have some influence on the person, are not primarily “people forming institutions”.  They are there on behalf of the instruments needed to live:  physical needs and safety. They are instrumental institutions.
All of these fundamental tasks of society are not only important—they are irreplaceable.  And at the foundation of them all is the first, the family.  Thence comes the next generation and every actor in every institution.  There also are all these basic tasks executed… family, religion, education, marketplace and government.  Thus it is there that the education of the future citizen in all five tasks begins and is most shaped.
Thus the most important of all tasks is the bringing of the next generation (the baby) into existence.   Therefore the most important relationship in society is that of the relationship between father and mother.  The stronger that relationship, the stronger the children (as all the data continuously illustrate). 
The way marriage is structured and carried out determines the functioning of the rest of society. 
The presence or absence of marriage structures the family, and as family is structured so is society structured—strongly or weakly, in every institution: the family itself, the church, the school, the marketplace and the government.
These relationships are as powerful as the laws of physics: they cannot be denied, overlooked, evaded or cast aside without society crumbling.  Many societies today seem intent on that pathway, but that is for future blogs and for the data to illustrate. 

This paradigm of the five basic institutions is the framework within which we will blog on the research MARRI does and that others of note do.   Tune in for continued education, and join in for continued discourse!

MARRI, Farmers, Fertility and Society’s Foundations

economics, intact family, MARRI, marriage, religion, sexuality 2 comments

By: Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
     Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

It is natural to measure the success of agriculture as an industry by its harvest, but a farmer’s harvest is more of the result of good farming, rather than the source of it. In order to understand the cycle of growth and health upon which a farm’s prosperity relies, we must look first to how the farmer sows and even how he prepares to sow.

Just like the farmer, society must invest in its own future by ‘sowing seed.’  At MARRI we attempt to diligently demonstrate the need for people to take care of their future harvest—the health and even the very existence of the coming generations—by sowing and cultivating good seed in the present time.

When the families in our nation delay marriage and reduce the frequency of childbirth, and when communities and leaders are encouraging such behavior, we fail to lay the proper foundations for a successful harvest and a continuation of a healthy, robust society.

We see this happening in other nations—Greece, Italy, Spain, and Japan come to mind—where the decline of demographic health is linked to lessened fertility and marriage. These countries have seen their average family size shrink and their economies sputter for want of young families … the growers of the next crop, the next generation. As the family goes, so goes the economy. Unfortunately, we see evidence that our own nation is headed the same direction:

But the economy is not the only institution that suffers when the sowing (sexuality) goes wrong.

It is the task of MARRI to show the United States how intrinsically interconnected are our fundamental institutions of government, marketplace, education, and religion with what is the most fundamental institution of all—the family.  We believe (and the data illustrates) that the thriving of the three “person-forming institutions”—the family, church and school—is key if the other two (marketplace and government) are to thrive and hold a sustainable and competitive role in the global arena.

So what is the ‘good seed’ we ought to sow? Philosophers through the ages have dealt with this question, most foundationally Plato and Aristotle.  How are we to rightly prepare for a harvest of health and societal growth?  The focus of this blog from here on will be to present the evidence from the social sciences that cast light on the road to strengths and weaknesses.  In particular we will examine the sexual trends, for that is where it all starts (where people start and are brought into existence).  Are they helping or hurting our families, thereby helping or hurting our basic institutions?

We will explore what has become our basic thesis—as all the data of the social sciences mount over the decades—that the main task of society, of individuals, of families, and of communities is to grow the young, intact, married family that worships God weekly.  If that is done, all the problems of society diminish in size and intensity and all its strengths grow.  It is a thesis that the social science data—but not too many social scientists—seem to uphold.  Therein lies the future excitement of this blog: a good public discourse on the fundamentals, and on the predictions and cautions to which the data point.

Faith on the Brain

depression, mental health, religion, worship 2 comments

By MARRI Intern

          MARRI research maintains that “good mental health is highly correlated to religious participation.”  Strong faith and frequent involvement in spiritual or religious activities are key elements in reducing the risk of depression in an individual’s life.  Numerous studies have previously established this idea that the higher the prevalence of religiosity in an individual’s life the lower the risk of depression.  An example found within this MARRI research observes “adolescents at one public school in Texas who frequently attended religious services and derived great meaning and purpose from religion in their lives had lower levels of depression than their less religious peers.”

Now, an article by Andrew Seaman introduces new research which suggests that there may be a further link between depression, spirituality, and the brain.  This specific study was by a number of researchers from Columbia University who came to the conclusion that the participants who claimed spirituality as a highly important element in their lives had a thicker cortex.  Some participants in this study had a higher risk for depression because of their family history, while the control group did not.  The data seems to suggest that spirituality can act as a sort of protection for the brain and “that religiosity can enhance the brain’s resilience against depression in a very physical way.”  This particular research now indicates that people who are not “spiritually active” may be more prone to depression due to a thinner cortex.  

Exploration in this specific area, like research in most other areas, presents the need for caution in that there is the possibility that “there could be other areas of the brain linked to religion and spirituality. Also, spirituality may be a marker of something else, such as socioeconomic status.”

But as this new study shows, the level of personal importance of religious practice carries dramatic implications for many areas of life.  Additional MARRI data shows that the more frequently an individual engages in religious worship, the more individuals, families, and communities will see the benefits.  When people obey God and “take heed of Him, the more He takes care of them,” and the more He tends to bless them in incredible ways.  

Visit a Church: the Case for Religious Attendance

MARRI, religion, United Kingdom, worship No comments

By MARRI Intern

“Church sets young people right,” a recent article by Paul Wilkinson, highlights data from the UK which suggests just this.  The study, conducted by Mark Littler, “implies that the act of visiting a place of worship may trigger a significant reduction in the likelihood of involvement in certain types of criminal and delinquent behaviour.”  This claim aligns with U.S. Federal data which has shown an obvious benefit to religious practice for both the private and public good.

The Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) affirms the value of religious practice to society in the research synthesis paper “95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice.”  These advantages are specific to the areas of marriage and family, parenting, sexual attitudes and behavior, health, mental health, charitable giving, education, and in regards to divorce as well as addictive behaviors.  Not only is religion associated with many societal benefits, but more specifically, religious attendance is also linked with the decrease in many forms of crime and a decrease in the likelihood of engaging in risky actions.  For example, the MARRI paper emphasizes that regular church attendance among the population of black inner city youth results in a “57 percent decrease in likelihood to deal drugs and a 39 percent decrease in likelihood to commit a crime.” Religious service attendance also tends to lead to positive changes in work and school attendance of young inner-city residents.  It was also found that an increase in religiosity during the college years resulted in 75 percent of those students attaining above average grades.      

While the results of the study in the UK determined that religious practice, attendance, and affiliation are correlated with the greater good of society as a whole, it is suggested that religion is not the only way to bring about these results.  An interesting statement by Littler shows that he believes that “religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms that are at the heart of this relationship; other, more secular activities may equally serve a similar role.”

Is it merely “gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms” that brings about the increase of societal good and the decrease in crime and delinquent behavior?  Perhaps not, as the research that MARRI has conducted specifically indicates that church attendance has been shown to provide these many positive benefits to society. Therefore, maybe worshipping God and learning to live according to His will is the vital element which is key to changing first the individual and then society.

For more information on how religious practice can benefit both individuals and society, visit MARRI.us.

An Ode to Grandparents

children, extended family, family, intact family, religion No comments

By Danielle Lee, MARRI Intern

If working with MARRI Research teaches you one thing, it’s that intact married families (pick your state and find out how the belonging index affects social policy outcomes where you live) are the way to go.  Families led by married parentsand that worship together regularly produce children who have better quality relationships, who perform better in school, and who claim to be happier than those raised in other circumstances.
But with studies focused on relationships within the nuclear family, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the the generations of parents that have come before.  This isn’t a gap in the research; it’s a logical inference that is many times forgotten or left un-pursued.  Grandparents are simply the expansion pack of the intact family.
Oh, the stories my grandparents would tell (and that I tell now)!  Of how they got through Soviet checkpoints at the North Korean border by getting all the young ones to cry loudly, or of how one of our ancestors was a political exile centuries back.  Mom and Dad have taught me how to function as a responsible citizen and bring a unique contribution to my community, whereas Grandma and Grandpa have taught me how I belong in the grander scheme of history.
So, why does this matter?  Bruce Feiler of the New York Times recently exposited the correlation between a child’s knowledge of family narrative and history and his or her ability to cope with physical, emotional, and mental traumas.  Children with knowledgeable awareness of their family narrative coped better with stresses, including the devastation of 9/11.
It’s so much more than a coping mechanism, though.  The great 20th century intellectuals pursued originality so aggressively that some were ready to divorce words from their accepted meanings (via written entreaties, ironically).  They believed that a rejection of and detachment from all they knew would give them untainted space for true originality. Yet one might posit that those intellectuals (particularly, the French) got it all wrong.  True originality (if it exists) and cultural progress stems from familiarity with history—you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
Learning about my great-grandfather’s commitment to Korean independence from Japanese occupation offers dimension and depth to my own life ambitions. It brings perspective as to why I’m inexplicably interested and drawn to public policy issues even when my siblings are not.  Meanwhile, goals that seem untenable, if not absurd, are no longer so implausible when you learn that the childhood home of your grandmother (the one who washes the dishes in the dishwasher because they aren’t clean enough) housed the Korean government at one point.
The generations that have come before are not participants in a distant past that have nothing to do with us.  In fact, they have everything to do with our identity and our trajectory.  In a culture that fixates on youth through babies on Facebook (see “Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children” below) or Botox, we can’t keep trying to stop time from passing—or we really won’t get anywhere.  The past is our launching pad.  It grounds us in morality and discipline but also pushes us to do greater things than accomplished before.