And I thought about those worshipers. How does having God in their lives change those lives?
Robert Putnam and David Campbell have written a book about how religion is shaping our lives ("our" being American because that's what I am). Here's a discussion of it with David Campbell in the Pew Forum. Here's an excerpt:
One is, we have a lot of evidence in our book that religious Americans are happier and, for the most part, better citizens and neighbors than their more secular counterparts. And what do we mean by better citizens and neighbors? Well, they’re more likely to volunteer. They’re more likely to give money to charity. They’re more likely to help out in informal ways their neighbors and those around them.
I want to emphasize that that’s not just religious people giving to religious charities or volunteering for religious groups. The secular volunteering and the secular giving of folks who are religious is actually higher than folks who are secular. And so that’s the part of this chapter that gets religious people all excited. Oh, great, there we go; we’re better than everybody.
But it turns out the story’s not quite that simple because the explanation for why we find those high levels of giving and volunteering and just general good citizenship and good neighborliness among religious folks is not what you might expect. It’s not what they believe. We can find no evidence, in tracing 25 different religious beliefs, no evidence that any one of them explains this relationship between religious — religious folks who give a lot.
Instead, it’s their congregation or, more specifically, it’s the friends they have at church. So it’s not just having a lot of friends. Anybody who has a lot of friends is actually more likely to do these good citizenship sort of things. It’s whether or not they have a lot of friends within their religious congregation, which suggests that perhaps what’s going on could be replicated in secular organizations, although the sort of secular group that would replicate what a congregation does is pretty rare. We’ve actually not found many examples of it, but it’s useful fodder for discussion.