Declining Religiosity Is a Problem for America. But It’s Not Inevitable

Noting the quickening decline of religious faith and practice in the U.S., Karl Zinsmeister warns of dire social consequences and urges creative philanthropic solutions:

Even the non-religious should worry about this shift, because society benefits from religiously inspired humanitarian behavior. Those with a religious affiliation give several times as much money to charity as other Americans. The ratio of Americans doing volunteer work in a typical week is 45 percent among weekly churchgoers and 27 percent among non-churchgoers. Decades of research have shown that a greater proportion of religious people get involved in community groups. They have stronger links with their neighbors and are more engaged with their families. . . .

Religious participation also has salutary effects on personal behavior. One classic study found that black males living in inner-city poverty tracts were far less likely to engage in crime and drug use if they attended church and likelier to succeed in school and the workforce. The religious are less poor and less suicidal; they have stronger families. . . .

Concerned citizens should take some cues from the charter-school movement. [For instance, donors could make] investments to beef up the best seminaries, plus fresh approaches like night classes and video instruction that can reach unconventional candidates for the ministry—such as those with job and family responsibilities. . . .

And just as with charters, American civil-society leaders could boost religious behavior by making investments in facilities. Many of the grand, visually inspiring cathedrals and synagogues in the cores of U.S. cities are now occupied by vestigial congregations. . . . Private efforts offering purchase or renovation funds to enable a reallocation of [such houses of worship] from waning religious communities to growing ones would be a boost to social well-being in cities.

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Read more at City Journal

More about: American Religion, American society, Civil society

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy