Faith is not the only motivator of generosity, but it definitely is a significant one. However, religious freedom and the civic participation it fosters is a story lost to many in societies where the populations are becoming more secular and less religiously active. The many daily headlines that rightly, but narrowly highlight people’s concerns about religion -- ranging from clergy sex abuse to religion-related terrorism -- often miss or overlook the clear positive contributions of faith and freedom to society.
A generation ago, this wasn't the case. Most newspapers were local, and most of them had a dedicated religion section and reporters covering the local religion beat. An that's the very place where the positive contributions of faith to society are most evident, ranging from visitation of the elderly to caring for the poor to providing centers for spiritual and social enrichment. But, as news has become more driven by sensationalism, coverage of stories considered "fluff" has collapsed.
Hannah Elliot discussed the decline of local religion news nearly a decade ago, and since then, the decline in the religion beat is stark. But, this does not mean that positive dimensions go unreported. Bethany Rodgers, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, covered the Pew study and discussed the practical impact on central Florida in a recent article, Central Florida's faithful bolster nonprofit outreach.
Quoting the Pew study, the Orlando Sentinel notes that 45% of highly religious people — those who said they pray daily and attend weekly services – reported they had volunteered in the past week. By comparison, only 28% of others indicated they'd volunteered over that time frame. And 65% percent of the highly religious individuals said they had donated money, time or goods to the poor in the past week, compared with 41% of people who were defined as being less religious.
The article notes that in the Orlando area, religious adherents are integral to the nonprofit network, according to Mark Brewer, president and chief executive officer of the Central Florida Foundation, a philanthropic organization. "We couldn't deliver a lot of human services without either faith-focused or faith-based organizations or initiatives at some of the major churches." Brewer said. For example, churches, synagogues, mosques and other congregations represent part of the Central Florida safety net, according to Brewer.
Of course, the study shows that religion, though a significant motivator of charity, is not the only motivation. The Orlando Sentinel notes that the impulse driving many religious people to volunteer might have nothing to do with belief in God, quoting Joseph Richardson, who belongs to a local group of secularists. Acts of kindness often flow from a humanist perspective that atheists and theists alike can embrace, he said. "Having this compassion and empathy for fellow human beings and understanding that they hurt and need help sometimes … that's the kind of motivation that we have for doing volunteer work," Richardson said.