What do Churches Contribute to the Community?

(BTW, this post is by Mike Clawson, the very-infrequent-but-still-here Christian contributor.)

I know the answer many atheists would likely give to the question in the title of this post is “nothing”.

However, that may not always necessarily be the case. At least, not according to studies done by U. Penn researcher Ram Cnaan (who describes himself as nonreligious), who has somehow found a way to monetarily quantify all the benefits the average urban congregation brings to their community. According to his calculations the average urban church in Philadelphia provides over $476,663 worth of services annually.

Here’s an illustration from Christianity Today (PDF) for one particular Philadephia congregation whose annual give-back value is over $6 million (click image to enlarge PDF):

Now, I haven’t looked at the actual study, just the articles about it, so I can’t speak to the legitimacy of his methodology or findings. I’m sure, as with any study of this sort, there will be lots to nit-pick about it. Still, to even begin calculating all of these seeming intangibles is an impressive accomplishment, and it raises all sorts of interesting questions about the value of religion in society. But I will leave that topic for all of you to hash out. :)

  • Gail

    The thing is, though, that none of those are really specific to churches. A secular school, secular cemetery, secular counseling center, etc. could provide the same benefits. Secular people can volunteer outside of a church as well. A secular community center could contribute the same thing to a community.

    I’ve been in both Christian counseling and counseling with a psychologist and psychiatrist before (although not for substance abuse, marriage counseling, or suicide prevention, which are the specifics mentioned in the article) and I can say that I think Christian counseling is definitely not as good in terms of giving you real strategies and such. I was a Christian when I saw a Christian counselor, but the advice of turning to God never helped. The problem is that clergy and many Christian counselors aren’t trained in psychological issues, so they don’t have a lot to offer you other than platitudes about God. Most people in danger of suicide or substance abuse need medication and behavioral therapy, not somebody taking advantage of their vulnerability to turn them onto religion.

    Also, I’m not sure how they got the data for crime prevention. And since religious areas almost always have higher crime rates than less religious areas, I’m thinking that the reduced crime rate is probably not a general thing for churches, but rather an anomaly for this church.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Paul Adams

    Wait, what day is it today…?

  • Kenny

    Haha April fools!

  • Steve

    And what about the suicides and deaths caused by religion?

    Or drug use? Utah has the highest anti-depressant use in the US. That’s no coincidence. The pressure on women to have the perfect family is incredibly high. Other more extreme cults probably have similar psychological side-effects.

  • Brice Gilbert

    I’m curious to know what “divorces prevented” means. Does it take into account that sometime it might be better for a couple to separate?

  • http://webjrliving.blogspot.com/ Bill Boling

    For me it is still March 31st as I type this.

    As was said by previous posters, There is nothing in the list of Religion sponsored events, that can not be done and is done by secular groups currently.

    There is an additional savings by Secular groups. They would be more inclusive to all people groups. Where most religious groups would be less inclusive as they would be pushing their beliefs on them, not so with most secular groups.

    So if religion was to disappear today, nothing would really change other than we would tend to be rational.

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    One think I do like about organized religion (that we atheists should try to poach) is the way it helps people be connected to their neighbors and fellow parishioners, whether or not they know each other well. I go to Mass every week with my Catholic boyfriend (fuel for our unending, but polite, debates), and I’m always touched by the moment in the service where people share individual prayers from the pews.

    As a result of that practice, I end up with a better sense of what’s troubling my Catholic acquaintances than I do for my atheist friends. Sharing your aunt’s sickness, brother’s trouble finding a job, etc publically gives everyone an opportunity to try to help.

  • Richard P.

    I would think if you could put a dollar value on the negative impact religion has, it would far outweigh the, as they have calculated it, positive impact.

    How about loss of taxes, loss of jobs, lose of dignity, loss of life, mental and physical damage.

    What good is this study if it doesn’t calculate in the negative impact as well?

    I’m curious to know what “divorces prevented” means.

    Isn’t that just religious talk for, woman put in her place?

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    As I see it these are all ‘services’ stolen and miss delivered to the community that would otherwise develop community services that help without hurting.

    The church supported AA has a higher suicide rate than no help and profit at the top of their pyramid structure while both delaying real help and misinforming the public about real risk while spreading temperance based drug war propaganda and delegitimizing the health system. Church based mental health hot line volunteers have been known to mock those who believe in evolution. Aid for the poor is pity(chump change) rather than meaningful community responsible empowerment. All the while any real help promotes the myth that keeps people down on their knees.

  • grung0r

    That “chart” is one of the dumbest things I have ever laid eyes on, and I just watched the Mike Huckabee video.

    I notice, for instance, that the chart counts the Church’s budget not as the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue that it is, but as a stimulus on the economy! As though anyone else in America couldn’t claim the exact same fucking thing for every dollar they spend(except they, unlike this church, pay taxes). The chart then claims that the church “saves” the community $22,500 dollars via preventing divorces. Beyond the idiocy of the assertion that stopping a divorce is either always a good idea or a money saving measure, what happened to the whole idea that spending money = economic stimulus that it was just claiming for it’s budget?

    That last point, as I hope is now obvious, is true for every single item on that chart. If you claim that spending $580,000(budget + capital expenditures) in the community is ‘saving’ the community that amount of money, you cannot turn around and simultaneously claim that PREVENTING $4,500,000 from entering the economy is also saving the community money, no matter how dubious the claimed savings are or not(and the savings claims here are very dubious indeed. $3,500,000 for a k-12 indoctrination camp? really?).

    You, Mike Clawson, are a moron. You, and your complete lack of even an iota of critical thinking skills, are proof that no matter how moderate the religious person seems, they still represent a clear and present danger to a secular, rational society. Go play with a light socket.

    Of course, if this is some sort of elaborate april fools day troll, I take it all back. If that is the case, well played sir!

  • A Portlander

    I’ll see your “reduced crime rate within tract compared with surrounding tract” and raise you one “less religious societies have lower crime rates overall”. And yeah, what everybody else said about people who are driven to drink, suicide, etc., by religion.

    My main problem with this is the whole idea of religious counseling/intervention. In every other field of endeavor, “religious” is a synonym for “ersatz” or even “anti-”: religious science is an exercise in tailoring evidence to fit conclusions, religious education discourages intellectual honesty, religious morality is trumped-up appeal to authority, and religious healing kills people (“Bible Cure for Cancer”, anyone?). People with both serious emotional problems and religion in their lives should look more closely at that correlation.

    Churches are sometimes effective at organizing charity, and mostly good for focusing the attention and effort of communities. That’s it, and the associated costs are much too high.

  • gsw

    Surely it is the worth of the congregation being discussed. The church is merely a meeting place for these activities – with the usual skim off the top for the clergy.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    everybody pretty much covered what i was going to say. churches are like privatizing govt services. they may sound like a cost saving “good” idea to some, but in practice, they end up costing more and delivering less and being more prone to crime and corruption. religion is a parasite and can’t exist unless it profits from being treated as a special category in functioning political economies.

  • Wild Rumpus

    I am a long time atheist, but since having a baby a year ago, I have been attending a Unitarian Universalist  Church.  Plenty of Friendly Atheists there.  

    We get together once a week and sing non theistic songs, listen to sermons about living a moral life without dogma,  meditate together as a group, donate money to those in need, and do charity work in the communiy. All without gods.

    My sister is a born again Christan and one of my reasons for joining a UU church was to show her that you could have all the benefits of a church such as fellowship, charity work, potluck suppers, without believing in an invisible sky man who forces a narrow view of morality on you by threatening eternal damnation.

    I think many people go to church because they like to get together with their friends and kind of block their minds to the things that don’t make sense like virgin births and drinking the blood of 2000 year old political martyrs.

    I do believe there are a lot of things that churches can contribute to communities.  I just wish they didn’t have to contribute dogma and belief in the supernatural as well.

    Now excuse me,  I am off to proselytize and try to save a few poor Christians.

  • Kimpatsu

    Don’t forget what Matt Dillahunty said on Atheist Experience: before doling out services to the needy, churches make them sit through a sermon. At least the atheist help movements don’t hold people’s sandwiches to ransom for Jesus.

  • Alex

    Can someone point to the actual study that this stuff was based on ???

  • Samiimas

    I have an easy way to put a dollar amount on the ‘benefits’ society gets from churches. Go look up how many millions were donated to support Proposition 8.

  • Kaylya

    What’s with calculating “Members expenses in town”? That would seem to imply that there are people who visit just for the purpose of going to that church on a regular Sunday, which I don’t think is the case..

    I can see a church having some “out of town” members as in people who frequently visit the area and have some connection to the church; also some people who may drive from a distance that could be considered out of the community. The first group isn’t visiting just to go to the church, the second likely doesn’t spend much money in the community but does leave behind exhaust from their car.

    I don’t get the “Divorces Prevented” stat either. I am sure there are some people who went through religious counseling for their marital troubles, who you could say had a divorce prevented, yet at the same time Baptists have a substantially higher divorce rate than atheists/agnostics.

    When looking at the benefits of *anything*, you also have to consider the opportunity cost. For the same amount of money, they could have done a lot more for the charitable causes, for example.

    I would be interested in taking a look at more details of the research, rather than just a graphic done up by an obviously biased publication.

  • RG

    If you haven’t looked at the study, could you maybe NOT promote it in any way until you do? This is how bad studies get put into the public consciousness when maybe they should be ignored.

  • JakeH

    Suicide prevention?

    My local congregation fairly directly lead two of my (gay) classmates to suicide, and the monastery nearby probably didn’t help either (hundreds of children were raped it looks like …)

  • http://www.NoYourGod.com NoYourGod

    Rather than build churches, we need to build more bat caves – http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/bat-value/

    I’d like to see a study done for a local multi-purpose secular facility or commercial plaza. My guess is that we would see a significant contribution to the community for most, all WHILE paying taxes.

    I guess I’m just saying “Yeah – what Gail said.”

  • Valdyr

    If this is a joke, I’m impressed, as in my experience Christians almost never poke fun at the problems of their religion.

    Assuming it’s not… I’m still loling. Particularly at the “crime prevention” and “divorces prevented” stats. It’s a hell of an assumption to make, that the mere presence of your church in and of itself reduces crime in the surrounding area, independent of any more salient factors like poverty, school systems and urban infrastructure. And why is “divorces prevented” even given as though it’s an automatic positive thing? I have no doubt that plenty of couples who really needed to be away from each other for their own mental (and maybe physical) health were guilted into not getting a divorce by clergymen.

    Also, lol at “trees” and “cemetery (based on water retained)”. They’re reaching so hard they might pull a ligament.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    Nice graphic, otherwise a veritable pile of steaming bullshit.

  • Thegoodman

    The first thing I ran across tossed up a HUGE red flag.

    Volunteer work is valued at $20.25/hour? What fucking planet is this guy from. Volunteer work is typically low intelligence manual labor, which would be much closer to the national minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (the hours calculated at $7.25/hour come out to $33930). What else has the study arbitrarily tripled?

    “Later studies may find even higher values.” So they are already dismissing the possibility of finding a lower value, terrific science.

    Some of the values attached to these things are ridiculous. How much is it worth to society for a person to NOT kill themselves? That totally depends on the person and their productivity post-non-suicide.

    What about the money it is sucking from the local economy via tithe?
    Property tax of the several acres that are untaxed?
    Potential local revenue generated by a company or resident that may otherwise occupy that acreage?

    This looks like total bunk to me. Especially since $4.7 mil of the $6 mil comes from just 3 sources: K-12 school, church budget, and “helping people gain employment”.

    1. Most churches do not have a K-12 school, also who is to say that the local schools could not absorb these children w/o added cost.

    2. What does “church budget” even mean? If $150k of that budget goes to the Priest doing the sermons, is that really putting it back into the economy? I know god wants him to have a new Cadillac, but I just don’t buy it.

    3. What constitutes “helping” when getting someone a job? Are they counting networking while at church? Are they taking credit for a qualified candidate filling a position he/she is well suited for? This particular one is full of holes.

    Like many have said, replace “church” with community center and you can accomplish all of these things and more. Also, what is the monetary value of guilt? They create a boatload of guilt every second of every day, that has to be worth something. As long as we are being arbitrary with dollar values, I say $400,000 per person of guilt is created each year. So you multiple the people x guilt and the church is creating -$7 mil. They are $1mil in the hole!!

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Just in case some of y’all missed it, only the graphic was from Christianity Today. I also linked to another local Philly article that describes the study in a bit more detail.

    According to the article, the most recent version of the study has not yet been published, though apparently it’s based on earlier work that has been published in this book.

    I also found a chapter by Cnaan in an edited book that seems to present an earlier version of his findings.

    Sorry I couldn’t find a link to the actual article, though even after it’s published it might not be available online unless you have access to academic journals via a university or somewhere like that.

  • Parse

    There are a couple red flags with the numbers that I see.
    The first thing I see is that they claim that they provide $3,489,926 in value with their K-12 school. How much of that is subsidized by the church, versus how much is paid for by tuition by parents? Considering they calculate it by number of students, I would assume more the latter. It’s like claiming that the local McDonalds provides $2.3 million worth of services, because that’s what their gross sales were. While technically being true, it’s also moderately dishonest, as any other competing company (or school, in this case) could also have provided that same service. If I’m trying to show the beneficial impact of something, I need to show the value that this provides that would not be otherwise be handled in the community.

    Additionally, they claim that the church provides $64,416 in “Reduced Crime Rate”. How much of that is due to the church, versus the police force and the demographics of the community? And if the church didn’t help those people get jobs, would the jobs have gone unfilled?

    I’d also assume that that $60,000 in “Building Enhancements/Capital Campaign” would also be included in the $520,000 of the Church Budget. Claiming $523 worth of trees, based on USDA Forest Service values seems dishonest, unless you’re planning on harvesting them for lumber. How do they determine that three people would be in prison, or three people would have committed suicide without the church being there?

    This illustration looks like little more than a fine example of how to bend the truth with numbers.

  • Miko

    I would dispute the value of all of these except for the garden/lawn/cemetery and trees categories (where I don’t know enough to say one way or the other).

    An easy check is to ask yourself whether you’d be willing to pay what they say these things are worth: would you pay $14,500 to have the church line you up with the job, especially considering the fact that the kind of jobs a church could get you are likely to pay something close to this?

    The reduced crime rate statistic is the most interesting, as it seems a priori like a good thing. But in reality the church is at best leading people to commit crimes somewhere else instead, so that it’s really just shifting crime instead of reducing it.

    It’s telling that Cnaan works in “social policy” (whatever that is) and not economics. An economist would have conducted this study by looking at differing levels of social welfare in areas with differing numbers of churches and would have gotten an answer that really means something. Cnaan, as far as I can tell, just asked churches to list all the great stuff they do and then arbitrarily assigned values to them without considering how they interact with other community services (e.g., as Parse notes above: would jobs have gone unfulfilled if the church hadn’t provided matching services? If they would have been filled anyway, the church was worth only a potential reduction in transaction costs. If they wouldn’t have been filled, then the church basically strong-armed a business into hiring an employee it didn’t need, which is a deadweight loss for the community).

    Parse:

    Additionally, they claim that the church provides $64,416 in “Reduced Crime Rate”. How much of that is due to the church, versus the police force and the demographics of the community?

    As I mentioned above, this is actually the part of the study where they (AFAICT from the infographic) came closest to looking at what they should have been looking at. Assuming they did what the infographic claims, this should be controlling for police, etc., and so should actually be focused on the effect of the church.

  • Jeebus

    I know the answer many atheists would likely give to the question in the title of this post is “nothing”.

    Way to generalize DB. Here’s another one for you. Many church leaders are pedophiles and tax evaders.

  • Steve

    Also, they act as if some of the money – for example donations – wouldn’t be invested into the economy if it weren’t for churches. That’s nonsense of course. It’s true that churches, because they heavily encourage cohesiveness and group-think, have an easy time collecting money for charity. But without the churches, at least part of that money would flow to the community as well. Maybe not by directly helping needy people, but by spending it in local businesses. In purely economical terms (and they do speak of “economical value” right at the beginning) that increases the well-being of the community as well.

  • Elena Villarreal

    Man, this is bullshit. There are a lot of little criticisms to be made, but most, most importantly:

    Raising and spending some sum of money is not properly called “contributing” that sum of money to the community. It’s not like that money magically appears, and, when spent, it increases the size of the local economy by that amount. That money came from somewhere: the pockets of local residents, most likely. And that’s money that could have been spent on clothes, food, a new car, etc. In other words, the church is sucking up money that probably would have been spent, in large, part, supporting local small businesses. How awful of them.

    The situation is almost (not quite) as thought the local city government had raised taxes and then spent that money. You wouldn’t say that it had “contributed” the tax increase to the community.

    (I’m ignoring the face that taxes tend to discourage economic activity by their very collection. But you get the point.)

    The way people who understand nothing about economics pontificate about “helping” the economy blows my mind.

  • Blacksheep

    Anyone here who believes that the goverment would do a better job with those funds in local communities (the point about tax free, especially) knows nothing of our government, how it wastes money, and how it manages projects.
    I have been a part of soup kitchens, home building initiatives, food drives, etc, that were all faith based and connected directly to churches – and were all operated on a pttance. And we helped people in real, immediate, and meaningful ways. The government would not even come close to the same value for a dollar.

    For example, do you know how far behind the rebuilding of New orleans would be if it were not for Church groups going down over their vacations and buiding? Whether God is real or not, the numbers don’t lie when it comes to giving and volunteering. Maybe that will change, but that’s the way it is.

  • Parse

    @Thegoodman, I don’t take much issue with some of those numbers, as much as I take issue with the church claiming exclusive credit for them. For example, for an actual employee, in addition to the $7.50 per hour, the employer also needs to pay for benefits and taxes. I do think that $20.25 for unskilled labor is high (one article I saw said that a $14/hr employee costs about $20, once all is said and done), and I also wonder how many of those volunteer hours are done in service of the church itself (like grounds maintenance, staffing the office, etc). I would assume that the values for some of the other services – like suicide prevention, anti-addiction services, or incarceration prevention – are based on the standard actuarial values, adjusted for the local cost of living. They use the same math that justifies the government spending $X million a year on suicide prevention hotlines and drug rehab centers. I do question, though, how much of this value is directly attributable to a specific church, and how much of it could be provided by other, preexisting services in the community.
    I also find it amusing (in a good-natured, everybody’s-human kind of way) that they’re trying to find another way to recalculate “make the real-estate metric more accurate”, as it “could not be pinned on the handsome church’s presence.” I assume that this phrasing is due to this being in a newspaper article, rather than any bias on the part of the researchers, as the researchers should be looking to make all of the metrics more accurate, not just those that show negative values.

  • Steve

    @Blacksheep
    At least the government has certain standards and is accountable to the public. Yes, there is waste, but the churches are accountable to no one. They just receive money and no one cares about the actual effects. No one checks if the services are adequate or comparable to what the government can offer.

    And what’s the most important:
    The government is bound by the law, whereas religious institutions are exempt from following many laws. The government can’t legally discriminate. Churches can do whatever the fuck they want, can deny services to whoever they want. Even if they spend tax money in the process. For the most part perfectly legally. And what’s worse, Christians whine if they are called out on that and act as if they are persecuted.

    The advantage churches have is a free/cheap labor force to offer some of those services. And established structures that can offer new programs relatively easily. That’s why they can be more efficient in some situations. But that has mostly do with charity. Helping the poor with soup kitchens and such. It certainly doesn’t apply to running more complex institutions such as hospitals and schools. Those are just things that parallel their secular counterparts almost 1:1 as far as the bureaucracy is concerned.

  • http://qcontrary.blogspot.com kitsunerei

    Where’s the control group?

    Echoing most concerns here, but there’s no indication that these numbers aren’t matched and exceeded by other groups – such as secular universities. In my experience, a guaranteed way to increase membership in clubs at a university is to say “We go out and volunteer together.” Also, a lot of these don’t exclude non-religious groups. Someone above mentioned how without church groups, New Orleans wouldn’t have been rebuilt or wouldn’t be as far along being rebuilt.

    Secular groups and secular people go rebuild in NOLA too. I’m one of them. Many groups, even if that are built on a Christian foundation, don’t exclude others, such as Habitat for Humanity! Having worked with them, Habitat for Humanity isn’t really religious at all; when I was there, faith was never an issue and my group was very diverse and probably at least half secular. Looking at a group like that and saying “Well, you’re doing it because of church and religion” is just patently untrue.

  • Thegoodman

    One of my biggest problems with fancy pictures like this is that the public enjoys pictures WAY more than they enjoy finding out if they are factual.

    This piece of garbage is going to be floating around the internet and waved around by fundies forever.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    I will re-iterate the spirit and words of others: churches do this in spite of their foundation not because of it. Good people will always find ways to help others, churches provide the SECULAR structure to enable them.

    If not for the church they would involve themselves in youth groups, alcoholics anon, Samaritans (do you have them in the USA – they support the despairing, etc etc.

    They don’t mention support LGBT people: I won’t judge

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I would encourage those who wish to dig deeper into the actual social scientific methodology utilized here to look at the chapter from that book I linked to earlier. Unfortunately it’s just a Google Books preview, so some of the pages are missing. Nevertheless, the pages that are accessible do give a picture of the rationale and other studies many of the estimates were based on. Of course, just to say that they were based on reasonable estimates and other research in no way means that their methods can’t be critiqued. However, I think it is important to approach this as a serious social scientific study, and not as a polemical piece. I don’t think it would be safe to assume that the researchers behind this were motivated by a concern to promote religion, nor is there any hint that their approach was comparative in anyway (i.e. they weren’t trying to say that churches are better or worse than any other kinds of institutions at providing benefits to a community) – which, btw, would account for why there is no control group. At least, from what I can gather, their purpose for this study seems primarily methodological – they were attempting to show that such monetary estimates of seeming intangibles and externalities could in fact be quantified in a useful way. Indeed, they invite criticism and further refinement of their methods. If these techniques are refined and perfected over time, then ideally they could then be applied to many different institutions for some genuinely comparative studies that would help urban planners and others weigh the relative costs and benefits of various kinds of development.

  • Blacksheep

    Good people will always find ways to help others, churches provide the SECULAR structure to enable them.

    Yes, provided that most of the “good people” are believers. It has been discovered time and again that it is people of faith (Regardless of their specific faith by the way) who contribute substantially more personal time and personal resources than non-believers. Saying that churches provide the SECULAR structure to enable them just adds to the point: why is it overwhelmingly churches who do that?

  • Guffey

    Really? Is this an April Fool’s joke? Come’on… negatives need to be factored, someone mentioned control group… and… and…

    Nah, there’s too much wrong here to even begin. I think this is just a joke. Good one.

  • Blacksheep

    Where’s the control group?

    Just do it yourself: Ask 20 atheist friends how much they have given over the past 10 years, and then ask a group who consider themselves believers in God how much they have given. (Could be time or money)

    To make it more fair, exclude big national initiatives like New Orleans and Haiti. That way you’ll know who gives or helps out regularly just for the sake of helping others.

  • ACN

    Just do it yourself: Ask 20 atheist friends how much they have given over the past 10 years, and then ask a group who consider themselves believers in God how much they have given. (Could be time or money)

    To make it more fair, exclude big national initiatives like New Orleans and Haiti. That way you’ll know who gives or helps out regularly just for the sake of helping others.

    This is not how meaningful studies are done, with good reason. The amalgamating several anecdotes from my friends is not data.

  • Blacksheep

    This is not how meaningful studies are done, with good reason. The amalgamating several anecdotes from my friends is not data.

    Of course it’s not. That was not the context. But since you brought it up, how many participants would produce meaningful data?

  • ACN

    Depends on what you’re trying to come up with quantitatively.

    We have good statistics on what the breakdown of religious people in the country. In 2008, the wiki demographics put us at 173 million, and for the no-religion category we are looking at like 34 million. To get 95% confidence at a 3% confidence interval of each groups giving habits, we need around ~1000 randomly sampled from each category.

    Although honestly, asking this as a survey about a per annum thing probably isn’t a great way to do it. People’s memory and extrapolation powers are rarely very good, so a better strategy might be to pull amalgamated data from tax returns about charitable contributions. This has issues also. 1) I’m not sure if the IRS does this. 2) Although it is sweet and quantifiable, it misses non-monetary contributions of intangibles and 3) It glosses over anyone who gets a better tax return by taking a standard deduction.

  • grung0r

    At least, from what I can gather, their purpose for this study seems primarily methodological – they were attempting to show that such monetary estimates of seeming intangibles and externalities could in fact be quantified in a useful way.

    Please, it’s the methodology of a 5 year old. It can be summarized as:”everything I do is awesome.”

    The money I take from the economy – Awesome.
    The money I put into the economy – Awesome.
    The money I prevent from entering the economy – Awesome.

    Not only that, but all my awesome economic actions only have awesome economic consequences. It’s not like the police will ever have to be called responding to a domestic violence call in one of the households that I prevented a divorce in. And of course, everyone who has ever been prevented from committing suicide has gone on to have only awesome economic benifits to a community, no mental health services or welfare required. Also, I only prevent crime, never cause any. For instance, no child has ever been raped by a priest(especially in Philadelphia), becuase that wouldn’t be very awesome, would it?

    This isn’t a “study”. It’s propaganda made to be lapped up by credulous Christian idiots such as yourself. Real studies don’t end up in Christianity Today. They go to real, peer reviewed journals, where this study’s methodology would have been ripped to shreds and thrown into the trash pile, where it belongs.

  • Blacksheep

    It’s propaganda made to be lapped up by credulous Christian idiots such as yourself.

    Keep on spreading the love, grungor!

  • grung0r

    Keep on spreading the love, grungor!

    Hey, I capitalized ‘Christian’. I thought that was rather magnanimous of me. Or does that rule only apply to ‘god’….Well, it’s the thought that counts.

  • Blacksheep

    Hey, I capitalized ‘Christian’. I thought that was rather magnanimous of me. Or does that rule only apply to ‘god’….Well, it’s the thought that counts.

    It was magnanimous. Thank you. :)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    People’s memory and extrapolation powers are rarely very good, so a better strategy might be to pull amalgamated data from tax returns about charitable contributions.

    It might also help to specify what exactly qualifies as a “charitable contribution.” I have a feeling many religious people count any volunteer activity or monetary donation associated with their church as “charity.” For example, volunteering to teach Sunday school, fix the church roof, or organize the church bake sale does not, in my mind, qualify as charity because the time and money expended only affects members of the in-group, in essence, their private club. It’s no different from volunteering to be your child’s soccer coach, troop leader, or field trip chaperone. None of those things help people in the community at large.

    Similarly, are purely evangelistic or religious enterprises regarded as charity? If one sends money to some sort of “convert the heathen” organization, how is that defined? Obviously, atheists wouldn’t give money to such a group, while Christians would give generously. Just because money has been donated doesn’t mean that said money is going to help people in need, although surely some Christians would argue that evangelism is charity because people are in need of having their “souls” saved.

  • Blacksheep

    It might also help to specify what exactly qualifies as a “charitable contribution.” I have a feeling many religious people count any volunteer activity or monetary donation associated with their church as “charity.”

    From what I understand, giving to ones church is not considered “charitable giving” in studies about giving.

    Here’s an article on the subject

    And the final analysis from the study:

    “The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer.”

  • Douglas Kirk

    The big problem with that study you’re linking to, Blacksheep, is that the data relied entirely on self-reporting. So what that proves is not that religious people are more likely to give to charity than secular people; but rather that they are more likely to say that they give more to charity.

    While you may go on a tangent about me painting people as dishonest, it has been shown time and time again that the American people cannot be relied upon to self-report honestly about religion.

    For example, the number of Americans who report going to church weekly is 40%, and the number who actually go is closer to 20%.

  • grung0r

    Blacksheep:

    From what I understand, giving to ones church is not considered “charitable giving” in studies about giving.

    Nope. Wrong. Even according to your article(from the Hoover Institute! Why not point us to the Weekly World News?)What they did was ASK people how much the donated to “religious causes” or “non-religious charities” over the previous 12 months”. This means if someone choose to define giving to the salvation army, the promise keepers, or their volunteer efforts to cover up the rapes of children by their priest as “non-religious” then that’s how it was recorded. It is utter drivel, and is yet another example of what credulous christian idiots will lap up to prove their sky daddy.

  • Blacksheep

    It is utter drivel, and is yet another example of what credulous christian idiots will lap up to prove their sky daddy.

    I take back the magnaomous thing because your attitude is either intended to provoke or it’s your actual personality Either way, ech.

    From another study from Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University:

    Another indicative finding of the study relates to giving to nonreligious charities. It turns out that religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68% of the total population gives (and 51% volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71% to 61%) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60% to 39%). As examples, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. Across the board, religious practice is directly correlated to generosity with both time and money.

  • ACN

    I pointed out some of the problems with self-reporting above and several other people did also. What is Arthur Brooks’ methodology, specifically, was it also a survey?

    As some of my poltical science friends like to bemusedly point out to me: with polls and surveys you can often choose the answers you want by carefully wording the question.

  • Steve D…

    I could make up a similar study which covers all of the positive benefits of “donating” dollars down at the local strip club.

    It builds community. Puts money into the economy. Provides single mothers and young college students with meaningful employment. All good and positive things.

    Of course, I really “attend” at the local strip club because of personal reasons. Providing support to the community is just a nice side benefit. :-)

  • grung0r

    It turns out that religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68% of the total population gives (and 51% volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71% to 61%) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60% to 39%).

    Unless you would like to show us how the methodology of this new study is different from the last one you waved, I fail to see how your quote does anything different then the previous one. If the study is self-reported, then people can define ANYTHING THEY WANT as being ‘non-religious’! Do you really find it so hard to believe that a religious person’s definition of what counts as non-religious giving may be significantly more broad then a secular person’s?. Furthermore, keep in mind that with self-reporting, they don’t even have to have done the giving. They can just say they did or even honestly misremember how much time or how much money they gave.

    I take back the magnaomous thing because your attitude is either intended to provoke or it’s your actual personality Either way, ech.

    That’s a false dichotomy right there. It could easily be both. For instance, I could say that you are either Lying for Jesus or a a total moron, with a complete inability to cognate anything that contradicts your simple little world view. But it’s entirely possible that both things are true at the same time. Logical fallacies like the False Dichotomy are important to avoid. Try to do so in the future.

  • Nordog

    I take back the magnaomous thing because your attitude is either intended to provoke or it’s your actual personality Either way, ech.

    Blacksheep,

    You’ve just seen another example of hatred and bigotry.

    grung0r is a great example of what Chesterton was talking about when he said, “Those thinkers who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it.”

    Of course, in all fairness I don’t know that grung0r even claims a love of humanity.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Nordog,

    “Those thinkers who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it.”

    Fighting bigotry with bigotry? Not all of us are being rude. I wish people wouldn’t resort to insults and name-calling because it entirely derails the conversation and makes it about tone (“those mean and offensive atheists”) rather than the point we’re trying to make.

  • Nordog

    Anne, bigotry is as bigotry does, but it doesn’t make one a bigot to call one out.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I could make up a similar study which covers all of the positive benefits of “donating” dollars down at the local strip club.

    Yes, indeed you could. In fact, I think that’s actually one of the researchers’ main points with this study – that you can quantifiably measure externalities of that sort for institutions within a community, whether you’re talking about a church or a strip club or wherever.

  • grung0r

    it doesn’t make one a bigot to call one out.

    Define bigotry, numbnuts. Then show me where, under this definition, I was bigoted. Lastly, Tell me if you, under this new and very probably meaningless definition, are bigoted towards anyone. Astrologers, perhaps? Anti-vaxxers? Christian dominionists? Gnu-atheists? Holocaust deniers?

    Or maybe not. Maybe your definition is what I suspect it is: Not respecting groups that you, nordog, are a member of, or that you, nordog, find innocuous. Yeah, that’s where the smart money lies.

  • TiltedHorizon

    So what do Churches contribute to the community? These gave 166 million, collectively. I’d be impressed if not for the fact that it was a payout to it’s victims. Read more about this here:

    http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/mar/26/jesuits-to-pay-victims-of-abuse/

    Granted these cases are the exceptions but I’d be willing to bet negative effects were not considered in the study. Case in point, since this study was focused on Philadelphia churches, I have to wonder if Kent Schaible’s parish was considered. Kent was 2 years old, his parents were members of a Northeast Philadelphia church that shuns medical care. For some reason 10 days of prayer did not cure his bacterial pneumonia.

  • AxeGrrl

    Valdyr wrote:

    And why is “divorces prevented” even given as though it’s an automatic positive thing? I have no doubt that plenty of couples who really needed to be away from each other for their own mental (and maybe physical) health were guilted into not getting a divorce by clergymen

    Exactly!

    Funnily, even Dan Savage is sometimes guilty of endorsing the “staying together is the priority” thing (most often when he’s being critical of those who choose to leave their spouse because of infidelity)

  • Nordog

    grung0r,

    Your hatred and bigotry are both palpable and self evident.

    I’ll not bother to define bigotry for you, but I will offer a prime example: you.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Nordog,

    Anne, bigotry is as bigotry does, but it doesn’t make one a bigot to call one out.

    I was referring to the bigoted Chesterton quote.

  • Nordog

    Anne,

    Oh yes, he certainly paints too broad a stroke there doesn’t he.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    @Mihangel apYrs- You seem to be under the impression that the ‘services’ provided by churches that you list are good things. While I don’t know Samaritans, I do know too much of the 12step groups and they and their quack spin offs are decidedly bad things for communities. The largest catalog of links about that that I’ve come across can be found at this site.
    http://www.orange-papers.org/menu1.html

    As for the bickering among the commentators(bigot charges and counter charges). I do get tired of arguing god pro or con and would like to see more atheist groups become focused on community service, but I guess as long as we’re an embattled minority politically we’ll be stuck with the political and philosophical bickering. For me the non-existance of god(s) argument is long over and very boring.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    a related link list of spin offs and their criminality for profit that churches give cover to or support outright-
    http://www.fornits.com/anonanon/

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I pointed out some of the problems with self-reporting above and several other people did also.

    @ACN: An inconvenient fact for ideological atheists is that civic groups and school programs can individually corroborate whether a person has been volunteering for them or not. That eliminates any problem of self-reporting.

    The Hoover report addresses and adequately allays those kinds of concerns if you bother to read it, at least if you are an impartial reader.

    Say that it is true that religious folks are more charitable with their time and money. What can we do to make that fact look false?

    That’s what the marketing atheists would ask. A slight tweak in their accidents of birth and they might well be producing creationist videos instead. It’s sad how little truth matters to them, isn’t it?

  • grung0r

    nordog,

    I’ll not bother to define bigotry for you, but I will offer a prime example: you.

    I see the problem now. It’s that you and I live on two different planets. I live on a planet where, say, beating someone to death because of who they like to have sex with is an prime example of bigotry. You live on a planet where calling someone “credulous christian idiot” on the internet is a prime example of bigotry. Perhaps on your planet, they just beat all the homsexuals to death. It would explain your lack of familiarity with the concept of bigotry, and it does fit in with the bible after all:”If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. -Leviticus 20:13″. I do hate to think what happened to all the other groups that have experienced bigotry though. A similar fate, I expect. Well, if you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs, right?

  • Nordog

    You continue to prove my point with every subsequent post you make.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Say that it is true that religious folks are more charitable with their time and money. What can we do to make that fact look false?

    It doesn’t have to be false. Correlation is not causation, though. I see no evidence that supernatural beliefs lead people to become more charitable. If you read that study, it doesn’t differentiate between people with supernatural beliefs and people who don’t have supernatural beliefs. It simply measures levels of participation in organized religion, ie: how often people attend religious services. It doesn’t measure religiosity, since people who aren’t members of a church often have sincere religious beliefs.

    It’s not like the study is saying that believers are charitable and atheists aren’t. I can think of lots of reasons why people who are actively involved in religious organizations might be more charitable. They have more opportunity, for one. If their churches are constantly having food drives or clothing drives or organizing volunteer activities, they have more chances to participate than someone whose workplace only has a toy drive around the holidays. People who join churches are probably also more group-oriented and may be more likely to be joiners and doers, whether they have supernatural beliefs or not.

    I would be interested to see how this compares to other countries. The United States is a highly religious society, and we also have a very high rate of volunteerism. In fact, according to this graph, we’re #2 in the world. However, we’re beaten by Australia, a much less religious country. Other primarily secular societies also have high levels of charitable giving, both individually and at the federal level. How do Americans compare to the Scandinavians, for example?

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    @Anna: Those are all good points, and interesting questions to be sure. But there is evidence that supernatural beliefs lead people to become more charitable, such as:

    …experimental data showing that religious people can be more generous, cheat less and co-operate more in games such as the prisoner’s dilemma, and that priming with religious concepts and belief in a “supernatural watcher” increase the effects.

    If that data is accurate – and I see no reason to reject it – I think atheists should embrace it. Not because it makes atheism look all smiles and hugs, but because it is true. Truth is more important than ideology, that’s all.

    It’s a simple point, but one that can’t be reiterated enough in the marketing-obsessed organized atheism we find today.

  • e-man

    Seeing the periphery- behind the facades- the analytical fallacies – I’m ok with making it personal and passionate it should be but it should be well reasoned and not obscured by emotion – that is the devils playground.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    @Anna: Those are all good points, and interesting questions to be sure. But there is evidence that supernatural beliefs lead people to become more charitable

    That’s interesting, but what kind of “supernatural beliefs” are they talking about? Not all religious people have the same supernatural beliefs, and some (like UUs) might not have any at all. I’d be interested to see the data. I’d be especially interested to see which types of religious people were studied. Were they people who simply believed in a deity, and, if so, which deity? One would assume it was the biblical deity. Were the people involved Christians? Not all believers in the supernatural believe in a omnipotent “supernatural watcher.” Were Buddhists included in the study? Hindus? Jains?

    If that data is accurate – and I see no reason to reject it – I think atheists should embrace it. Not because it makes atheism look all smiles and hugs, but because it is true. Truth is more important than ideology, that’s all.

    Of course, but I’m still waiting for some kind of evidence that simple belief in the supernatural leads people to become more charitable. I can buy that participation in organized religion encourages it, especially in the United States. But again, I think it’s a muddy area given how broadly the word “charity” can be defined. I’m still wondering if theists who donate to purely evangelical organizations count those donations as charity, and if it is counted as such in the studies that have been done. I’d also be interested to see studies from other countries, especially countries that are primarily secular.


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