Friday, March 28, 2008

Social science: Why are the religious more charitable?

I've written before on the role of religion in causing people to give more time and money to charity, and whether giving makes you happier.

Now columnist George Will, noting a response from Texas, observes,

The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks' book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative. One demonstration that religion is a strong determinant of charitable behavior is that the least charitable cohort is a relatively small one -- secular conservatives.

That's an interesting new finding, but not a surprising one. Many secular conservatives are into Darwinian evolution - not a creed that encourages help for the less fortunate (Darwin's losers?). But I do not know if that is the actual reason for the tight wallets.

In any event, I always feel I must add a qualifier to claims that religion and philanthropy icreasingly correlate with conservative political affiliations. I am nearly sixty years old. That is old enough to remember the days when it was both the duty and honour of every able-bodied citizen to help the less fortunate. It was simply part of the air we breathed. It was not in any sense a "conservative" point of view. It is sad to see something that felt so normal become so politicized.

But wait! It may not be as politicized as some think. Remember the Zogby poll that asked whether Democrats considered themselves born again? And many of them did! Suppose we round them up and ask them how much THEY give to charity?

Now THERE is a poll for someone to sponsor. What if it turns out that secularists are the only ones letting poor kitty starve?

Note: The current controversy, featured in the soon-to-be-released Expelled film, has nothing to do with whether evolution occurs. Of course evolution occurs. But Darwin was wrong all the same because he left out design and purpose.

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