What good is religion? Congregations teach us to give AND receive

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series What good is religion?
Seattle poverty collection box built from a parking meter

NO, it’s not a parking meter, although it was built from one. This is a street-side alms box in Seattle, collecting funds for local poverty-relief programs.

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life. Here is David Briggs’ first column this week

Jesus taught that it was more blessed to give than to receive—and Americans have taken that message to heart. Dr. Wayne Baker’s research for United America concludes that “Self Reliance” is a core value shared by nearly all Americans. We’re happy to help others—but we don’t want to be dependent on others!

In a culture that prizes rugged individualism, and can interpret personal needs as a sign of weakness, many Americans find it is more acceptable to give than to receive. That’s why it’s common to find a member of a congregation who spends years visiting the sick in his parish—but who is fearful to seek pastoral care himself when a loved one contracts AIDS. Or, consider the woman who volunteers to be a mentor to unemployed congregants, but finds herself too embarrassed to seek help herself when she loses her job.

If you’re involved in a congregation yourself, do you know people who follow this pattern?

Whether you’re involved in a congregation, or not, what do you think about Jesus claim: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”?

New research is showing us that this may be a false choice. In fact, it’s most helpful to give and to receive. That’s according to new research just published in a spring 2014 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The study found congregation members who assisted others and received care themselves were dramatically more likely to place “complete trust” in their fellow worshipers than members who only gave or received help.

What’s more, the trust and caring relationships members build in their congregations do not appear to end at the door of the church, temple or mosque. A 2012 research report from the Measuring Morality Study indicates that the most religiously active Americans are more likely to both be trusting and to strive to be compassionate and merciful.

Giving individuals who also are able to accept acts of mercy from others appear most likely to love their neighbors.

What’s your experience?

Do you find it easier to give? Or to receive?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “It is most blessed to give and to receive, studies suggest” at the ARDA website.

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