I was flicking through my December issue of the Economist when I came across an article titled “Wealth from Worship”. Essentially, a gentleman named Gruber, from M.I.T., has done some research suggesting that church-going types save more, make (arguably) wiser investments, and are just generally better off (including higher incomes than other of their class, race, region etc.). The rest of the article is mostly about seperating cause from effect (e.g. maybe the wealthier have more time to devote to religion), but it got me thinking:
Is belonging to a religion “useful” to any given individual (when I say “religion” here, let’s assume I’m talking about Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, which is, I think, most easily discussed and easiest to get info on), and if so, is it “useful” to the society that individual works in?
For example, it could be argued that a religous upbringing tends to inculcate values that are socially desirable (hard-working, obedient, literate) and therefore help to ease the passage of the worshipper through life. Equally, religion can give both a support system and a group with which to identity, which it is difficult to argue the value of, both for me and my community- it is in no-one’s interest, after all, to have a lot of alienated and disenfranchised loose cannons running around.
Going further than such factors, however (which could arguably be gained from a similar secular system), does “faith” in general- i.e. the ability to believe in something without conclusive evidence in favour of it (which, like it or not, rests at the heart of most religous belief systems) help me as an individual? I suppose you could argue that it makes me happier, since I have less worries about the future of whatever, and that it may also make me willing to trust others- something that is essential for human interaction. In fact, I seem to recall (no cite, alas) something suggesting that human evolution has favoured those who can believe in things “blindly”, incidentally giving rise to almost universal religion (no matter what form it take).
What do you think? Does being religous help you through life? And does a having a majority of its inhabitants be religious make a society stronger or wiser?