Religion & Liberty Online

Does Religion Do Us Any Good, Even If We’re Not Religious?

Is there any societal reason to protect religion? That is, do we get anything out of religion, as a society, even if we’re not religious, and is that “anything” worth protecting? Mark Movsesian thinks so.

In First Things, Movsesian says religion does do good for a society – a good that is worthy of protection.

Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state—even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness, and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.

Movsesian says that those that go to church tend to be civic-minded; they put energy into creating a just place to live. They’re charitable and helpful. All of this means a nicer society for everyone.

But what if you’re “spiritual, but not religious?” Or an atheist? Certainly you can be kind, civic-minded, helpful.  (These folks, often referred to as “nones”, make up about 20 percent of the American population.) What exactly does religion bring to the mix?

Mary Eberstadt, in her book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization (Templeton Press, 2013), assures us that religion is really important. Without active faith, our society starts to fall apart, beginning with the nucleus of society: the family. Traditional religion promotes marriage, promotes parents raising children together, promotes sound education of these children, and so on. Simplistically, the family is the glue of a sound society, and sound families are built on traditional religious foundations.

Owen Strachan, at Canon & Culture, says Millenials (who tend to be non-political and non-religious) do have a striking role to play in church and culture. Despite the fact that many people in this age range don’t see themselves as “hard-core” when it comes to faith, Strachan says they have a lot to offer:

Part of what has pushed some Millennials away from being the speaking church is that we have not always heard our leaders make the biblical connection between rightness and health, truth and flourishing. But what is true is always what is best. We need to make this elegant connection on moral matters.

Millennials have an opportunity today to speak on matters of sexuality and gender, for example, from the perspective of both rightness and health. It is wrong to change God’s super-intelligent design for the family, for example. But we also must make clear that altering the family will not lead to human flourishing.

Movsesian says that “religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.” Indeed, this is true, but only if those who claim a faith actually live it.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.