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Last Word - May 2011

The Light of the World

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said. Not you should be the light of the world or you will be the light of the world or you could be the light of the world. You are the light of the world! Recent studies confirm what Jesus said. The evidence is collected in the book, American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.

By almost every measure, religious Americans make better neighbors. They are more generous with both their time and their money. They are more civically active. They are more involved in community organizations and in political reform. They are more trusting and more trustworthy. And they are measurably happier than their less religious, secular neighbors. You are the light of the world.

A few examples, drawn from these studies:

Regular churchgoers are more than twice as likely to volunteer to help the needy, compared to demographically matched Americans who rarely, if ever, go to church.

Measuring charitable giving as a fraction of annual income, the average person in the most religious fifth of Americans is more than four times as generous as his or her counterpart in the least religious fifth: the religious giving roughly 7% versus the nonreligious giving roughly 1.5 %. And this is not just because the religious are obviously going to be giving to their own churches. Highly religious people also give more to purely secular causes, such as the American Cancer Society or United Way, than do more secular folks.

In not a single case of 15 types of good deeds, listed in the survey materials, are secular Americans more generous than religious Americans and, in 10 out of the 15 cases, religious Americans clearly surpass the generosity of their secular neighbors. Thus, frequent churchgoers are more likely to: give money to charity; do volunteer work for a charity; give money to a homeless person; give excess change back to a shop clerk; help someone outside their own household with housework; donate blood; spend time with someone who is a bit down; help someone find a job; allow a stranger to cut in front of them; offer a seat to a stranger.

Religious Americans are also up to twice as active civically as secular Americans. By which I mean belonging to community organizations, energizing the community to solve problems, press for local social or political reform, and take part in local civic and political life.
Furthermore, the average American has more trust in people who are deeply religious than in people who are not religious. Even people who themselves attend church only once or twice a year say that they trust deeply religious persons more than they trust people who are not religious.

And finally, religious Americans are more satisfied with their own lives. That is, they are happier. There is no other way to say it: you are nicer! Or, as Jesus put it: you are the light of the world.

I am sure we can all do more, as individuals and as a faith community. But never forget who you are, when others would put you or your Church down. Never lose sight of the wonder of these people you sit with and pray with and share in sacred Communion with each week.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal