During the holiday season two distinct messages are communicated to each of us. One message is commercial, urging us to buy. The second, from the religious community, begs us to seek the spiritual message of the season. Though different, is there a connection between the realms of religious beliefs and economics?
A new study conducted by Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary from Harvard University supports the premise that nations whose people hold firm religious beliefs tend to grow faster. Their study incorporated findings from the World Values Survey, which assesses basic values and beliefs of people in more than 66 societies.
The Barro/McCleary study compared these and other religious findings to economic growth in countries throughout the world and found a definite correlation. In the most economically successful countries, there were: a higher concentration of people with firm religious beliefs; a higher gross domestic product; a more educated population; and freedom of religion.
These new study results may simply confirm what Christian theology has long maintained: Honesty, fairness, trust, and integrity can promote economic growth. Even the business world places value on these virtues by rewarding those who honor their commitments. Furthermore, God directs us to use our gifts to his glory and desires us to flourish.
How we use economic success is also the subject of many biblical passages, including Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler and his caution regarding storing up treasure (Matthew 6:19). As with any gift, wealth is a tool we can use for good or evil, depending on our motivation.
The Acton Institute is devoted to establishing positive connections between the commercial and the eternal—between economics and religion. In this season of giving, may we value the blessings of each message and use our gift of prosperity to the glory of God and his purposes.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico