Have you met many upwardly mobile, high-income people who are also religious? I have. You have too. In fact, they are one of the reasons why American houses of worship are flourishing. So often they donate the funds, volunteer their time, and inspire local congregations with entrepreneurial ideas.
Compare what we know about these people with the commonplace wisdom. Many people believe that the more secure people are in their material lives, the less they find a need for religious commitment. They become less dependent on God in the belief that they can fully depend on themselves. This belief is plausible, and certainly wealth can be a distraction.
But does the commonplace wisdom stand without exception? Not empirically. Economist Jonathan Gruber examined census data and found that higher market density and family income is associated with increased religious participation. These people also tend to have a higher level of education, lower receipt of welfare, and lower levels of divorce.
Another way of putting this is that the data he examined indicates that people who are becoming more economically secure become more religious, not less. They also tend to exhibit stronger moral character in general. Their values are often derided as bourgeois, but their families stay together, they attend church regularly, and they are self-reliant.
We can argue cause and effect all day (does wealth breed religious commitment or is it the reverse?), but that doesn’t capture the truly important point. What strikes me most is how unfriendly the religious intellectual scene is to wealth creation, when the empirical reality is that religious commitment and wealth creation can go hand in hand.
The flourishing of religion requires that it be supported by society’s most productive people. What is missing is intellectual integration. We need to understand better how freedom and faith are integral concerns. This is a main focus of the Acton Institute’s programs, and we are grateful to you for supporting our work in this and every area.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico,