Faith & Money: What matters most? Survey says …

Gardens of earthly and spiritual delights

By David Briggs

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Matthew 19: 21-22

What delights us in this world?

Religious teaching encourages followers to discover true happiness in their faith, and in particular in the love of God and one another. A relentless consumer culture urges us to find meaning and satisfaction in material goods.

The 2008-2009 U.S. Congregational Life Survey asked a series of questions on this topic to a random sample of 833 worshipers. And the winner is … our possessions.

Forty-two percent of respondents said they were “extremely delighted” with the things they own. There were no differences among Catholics, conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants, with more than four in 10 in all groups saying their possessions were a source of great delight.

Actually, the things they own was tied at the top of the list of extremely delightful aspects of their lives along with close relationships with family and friends. But there was not the same unanimity in this area among religious groups, with Protestants much less likely to say they were extremely delighted with such relationships.

What may be equally surprising as the value worshipers put on their possessions was the relative lack of satisfaction they reported with other central aspects of their lives. Consider these findings:

Thirty-four percent of worshipers said they were extremely delighted with their own happiness. Slightly less than a third expressed the same satisfaction with their spiritual lives. Twenty-eight percent of worshipers said they were extremely delighted with what they had achieved in life, the lowest level of satisfaction reported on any of the nine areas surveyed.

What areas of your life make you extremely delighted?

This column originally was published at Beyond the Ordinary: Insights into U.S. Congregational Life. For many years, David Briggs has been one of the nation’s leading journalists covering religion. His columns appear both in Beyond the Ordinary and at the Association of Religious Data Archives. This column was reposted with permission.