Religion has power over various societal issues and thus, the examination of its effects on the society has intensified all over the world. A survey, carried out by Campbell and Putnam on the thousands of Americans, indicated that more than one-third of American marriages are interfaith and a similar number of people have shifted from one religion to another. Religion, therefore, can be seen as a creed, an institution, and a social movement that has various impacts on the institutional framework of a country, including its political culture and behavior.
Religion has influenced American society both positively and negatively. So far, the United States of America is considered to be one of the most religious nations among the developed countries in the world. Furthermore, the U.S. is one of the most contemporary countries in terms of its socio-economic characteristics. However, in contrast to the prediction of Marxism theories, the disappearance of religion has not been experienced. Wald suggests that the active participation of religious organizations in economic development, politics and social affairs is due to the United State’s neutrality, religious pluralism and because of the fact that churches “have avoided exclusive association with any particular political affiliation”.
The fathers by who the United States was founded had a clear understanding of the vital role, played by religion in the American society. They, therefore, shielded the American societies from religious influences. They further promoted religious freedom and acknowledged its benefit to the society. This is clearly noted on the farewell speech of the former president of the United States, George Washington, in which he attributed the political prosperity of America to the support of religion.
In recent years, extensive research that demonstrates the importance of religious practices within societies has been conducted. According to Spilka, who compared the results of the study carried out to reveal the impact of religion on the American society, 81% responded affirmatively about the fact that religion positively influence the Americans, 15% claimed that religion had no any notable impact on the Americans, while 4% stated that religious practices are harmful for the society. However, the negative impact of religious believes are mostly associated with the unhealthy religious practices. The positive impact of religion on the American society has always been downplayed by the unhealthy religious practices, which distort the actual nature of religion, and thus its positive consequences for the society are ignored.
This paper seeks to unfold the impact of religion on the American society, considering the historical facts. In order to cover the topic comprehensively, the paper will address the social, political and economic aspects of the influence of religion in the United States of America.
Religion Helps in Addressing Social Problems
Religious practices demonstrated the enormous potential influence on today’s social problems, especially while addressing them. Religion is associated with the reduction of the number of social problems such as suicides, drug abuse, sexual permissiveness, teen pregnancy, alcoholism and delinquent acts. Active religious involvement positively influences one’s self-esteem, family relations and the general well-being of the society. Many Americans consider religion as a refuge that protects families from the influences that would tear them apart. The social impact of religion on the American society is discussed below.
Improving American’s Well-being
Numerous scientific studies show that religion has a considerable effect on the American adolescents. Religion has a positive and a constructive influence on children’s attitudes and behaviors. Church attendance and adherence to religious faith are associated with reduced juvenile drug, tobacco, and alcohol use. In addition, it is inversely related to delinquency. Multiple studies illustrated an inverse relation between religiosity and thoughts of suicide among the American teenagers. Furthermore, religion has been shown to have an indirect effect on the level of teenage suicide because it is associated with lower levels of hopelessness and depression.
Religion protects individuals against depression. According to the review of various studies conducted by Hood, individuals who frequently involve themselves in religious activities are less likely to encounter depression. In addition, also it was found out that involvement in religious activities leads to the reduction of one’s thoughts of suicide. Conversely, lack of any religious affiliation is highly connected with increased incidences of suicide.
Religion helps people to remain happy, and thus they are more productive and law-abiding, unlike the non-religious people. A review of a research conducted by Holt et al, shows a significant influence of religion on the level of an individual’s happiness and consequently, well-being.
Religion helps individuals in dealing with traumatic encounters. A study by Warner, Krause, and Booth showed that religious believers respond positively when coping with trauma, especially when the affected individual receives spiritual support from fellow believers. Thus, religion is seen to bring hope and to give the American people a greater sense of purpose in their life. In addition, the involvement of an individual in religious practices fosters their self-image.
American religion is a social institution where age stratification is not applied. Thus, there is continued interaction among the American adolescents and the fellow believers of all ages. Therefore, due to the interaction, youth is able to form relational network with the adult members who often offer them a helping hand, enabling them to access opportunities, information and resources, which otherwise could have been unavailable.
A study by Dunn revealed that religion fosters one’s physical health. It was found out that church attendance promotes the activities, such as exercise, dental hygiene, sleep, and the use of seatbelts, including other health-enhancing behaviors. Therefore, American religious people are more likely to engage in the activities that do not pose danger to their health and they always avoid being engaged in health-compromising activities. Families that regularly attend church are generally satisfied with their lives, unlike those who have never visited church. These families always cooperate in every aspect of life, and thus are better skilled in dealing with health complications. In addition, religion has helped the American society cope with various problems that occur in adolescents. This is more pronounced with the sexual behavior of youth, when religion helps to reduce the number of young people engaged in early sexual intercourse and consequently influences the number of teenage pregnancies.
A research conducted by Johns Hopkins University’s researchers in 1972 showed that regular church attendance reduced cardiovascular diseases, which is one of the major killers of senior people. On the other hand, a higher mortality rate, caused by cardiovascular diseases and suicide, was noted among the people who never attended church services. In addition, the study showed that high blood pressure is significantly reduced by regular church attendance. This study has been reinforced by many other studies conducted by various scientists over time.
Effects of Religion on Family Relations
Involvement of American families in religious activities is greatly associated with good parental care in family affairs, and thus it leads to healthy family interactions. In addition, the high level of religiosity among American families has helped in maintaining core family values. Religiosity is associated with positive school attitudes among children. Religion has also been associated with good academic performance. Moreover, church, has acted as an influential factor that is believed to prevent children from dropping out of schools.
Many American policy makers have been in pursuit of policies that would strengthen families. This can be well accomplished while considering the benefits that are associated with religious believes, especially encouraging family stability. According to Professors Darwin and Gwendolyn of Brigham Young University, religious and family institutions should be studied concurrently in an effort to better human relations.
Religious practices have helped in the creation of stable marital relationships. This has lead to the achievement of successful generations among men, women and children, since stable marriages are associated with enhanced physical, mental, emotional and intellectual well-being. Religion helps to equip generations with values and habits that promote prosperous economic activities among the American societies. The practice of religion among the American societies also promotes stable marriages. According to Browning, numerous studies indicate that religious practices among the Americans has led to the higher levels of marital stability and marital satisfaction, increasing the likelihood of an individual getting married. Browning notes that couples that adhere to religious practices always collaborate in their activities and are, therefore, less likely to use aggression in case of disagreements. In a research, conducted by Hood, married couples who have been living together for more than 30 years, reported that their divine believes helped them cope with difficulties they had encountered.Thus, religion is seen to act as a moral guidance that helps in decision-making.
Religious practices are also associated with decreased incidences of divorce among the American couples. According to Hood, couples that do not adhere to religious teachings are 2.4 times more likely to divorce as compared to marriages in which both spouses are believers. Couples, especially the ones sharing the same theological views, show a greater sense of wellbeing in their marriage. Thus, such couples are less likely to be involved in domestic violence. However, couples with theological views that differ are more likely to disagree, especially in matters related to finance.
Religion and Illegitimacy
Religious practices reduce the incidences of premarital sexual intercourse among the young people. On the other hand, lack of religious practices among the American youth is associated with their involvement in premarital sex. The effects of religious practices among the American teenagers can be well observed if the level of teenage pregnancies in various states is compared. States with a high number of religious people have a considerably lower number of teenage pregnancies as compared to the states with few believers. The behavior of children greatly depends on the religious practices of their parents. Thus, parents’ religious believes define the behavior of their children.
Illegitimacy expose children to various risks as they grow. For instance, illegitimacy has been shown to delay the development of children. The cognitive capability of the child is affected and the children may have problems while controlling their activities.In addition, children, born outside the marriage, are likely to lower educational aspirations and to become teenage parents.
Religion has Helped in Reducing Substance Abuse
According to a study conducted by Campbell and Alasdair, there is a significant connection between religious practices and behavioral activities that relate to substance abuse, such as the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs.Generally, the American people who are highly involved in religious activities show a lower rate of substance abuse, unlike those who are not religious and who suffer from drug addiction. Many churches in the American society prohibit their followers from consuming alcohol and illicit drugs, which are considered unacceptable. Religion has also helped those drug addicted in recovering from the habit.
Campbell and Alasdair also noted that religion significantly reduces deviance, especially substance abuse. This is because religious people are normally guided by behavioral sanctions that are based on religion. An individual who adhere to religious teachings is much likely to interact with conventional friends and to have a tight bond with the family members and schoolmates. These factors are some of the indirect factors that reduce deviance and substance abuse.
Religion and Generosity
The generosity of the Americans, both locally and internationally, can be attributed to their religious practices. Religious practices encourage individuals to take care and to be concerned about others who are less fortunate. A study by Chronicle of Philanthropy, found out that states with many religious people, such as the South, donates much of their income to charity. On the contrary, the Northeast, which is less religious, is less generous.
American religious beliefs have positively impacted on youth, providing them with peer-group and adult role models, who set the examples of good morals and life practices, shaped by religious moral beliefs. This has a positive impact on the youth’s well-being and on their way of living. Religion does not only provide moral orders and spiritual experiences among the youth, but it also provides companion disciples and wise elders who are considered to act like role models among the youth. In addition, religion also points on some individuals who have violated moral orders due to their lack of the desire to follow religious teachings. By so doing, religion makes moral orders to be more visible and tangible for its followers.
Religion shows how a life of a human being should look like. Many young people who develop a good relationship with their role models do not violate the religious moral orders to avoid damaging the relationship. Thus, they affirm to the religious moral orders and this has positive outcomes in the lives of the American youth.
Religion and Economic Development
Research has shown that a nation’s economic development affects the level of participation in religion. According to a research by Fowler, increased income tends to render people to be less religious.Thus, religion plays a lesser role, as a nation develops economically. However, religious beliefs have a significant effect on America’s economic progress. For instance, religion reinforces good character traits, which ensures economic development. These traits include hard work, value of time, and honesty, just to mention a few. Thus, by so doing, religion increases productivity by motivating the believers to work hard in their lives.
Political and Civic Involvements
Though the American Constitution calls for the separation of the church and the state for the continued success of the nation, religion has been playing an important role in politics over the years. Despite the legal measures of keeping religion out of politics, it plays a significant role in shaping the lives of many citizens in America, and thus it cannot be ignored in political arenas. Individuals who actively participate in policy creation and implementation have some religious sentiments that interconnect them to various religious organizations. Therefore, religion has a very significant influence on the American politics. During the elections, the Democrats and Republicans tend to favor certain religious and moral believes in order to influence the Americans with the same preferences. This has a major influence on public policy issues. For instance, the modern Catholic Church in America is considered as one of the largest interest group in the United States in terms of number of visitors. Judaism, though being a religion represented by minor group, has a significant power in American politics through lobbying and campaigning to influence certain foreign policies. Jews associates themselves with Democratic Party and by the help of prominent politicians have achieved important political status in the American society. This is a clear indication of how religion influences political decision making process in America.
In addressing the issue of separation of church and state, Wald argues that the separation strengthened religion in America by being the independent entities over which the American government has no control and are therefore capable of acting their own interests. The American people, Wald notes, are highly mobile and change with the ever-changing cultures in order to better the quality of their lives. Thus, many Americans associate themselves with religion as their unifying body. Additionally, they also seek identity, unifying themselves with certain political parties. This shows a clear linkage between religion and American politics.
A study, conducted by Fowler, showed that religious identity of American people has a great relation to their political affiliations. From the study they noted that the Jews and African American Protestants are democratic party affiliates. In addition, the Catholics and the Agnostics are also strongly aligned with the democrats. On the other hand, the Protestants affiliate themselves with the Republican Party. No doubt that religion highly influences the American politics.
Negative Effects of Religion
Despite the fact that religion has many positive and constructive impacts on the society, there has been criticism over some issues, advocated for by religion. For instance, in November 2012, Savita Halappanavar, though being a Hindu, died after being denied abortion in a hospital whose attendants are mostly Catholics. Critics argue that Savita lost her life because of other people’s religious believes. In addition, some churches in America do not allow their followers to go to hospitals while being sick because of the belief that “God can heal”.
Religious practices promote civil societies in the United States of America. Therefore, understanding the contribution of religion to the Americans is fundamental in ensuring the continued prosperity of the country. Religious practices have a powerful influence on the American society and can act as an antidote to many pressing social issues. However, despite the enormous benefits that religion brings to the American society, the expression of one’s faith in the public, especially in case of politicians, faces many challenges. To address these issues, legislators should explore both the positive and negative impacts of religious practices on the American society and recognize its role in addressing social issues.
Evidence has demonstrated that religious practices are powerful solutions to many social problems, such as teenage pregnancies, illegal drug use, depression, etc. In addition, religion has power to ensure stable marriages and thus is capable of preserving the society. This is a clear indication that through practicing religion, many goals of social policy can be successfully attained. The practice of religion is, therefore, important for American families as it improves their health, well-being and self-esteem and reduces the number of criminal incidents, out of wedlock births, delinquency, illegal drug usage, and health problems.