How Religion Contributes to American Prosperity

While it may seem counterintuitive, if not sacrilegious, to place a dollar value on the service of God, a 2016 study tries to do just that, concluding, in Brian Grim’s words, that “religion is responsible for $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value annually to the U.S. economy.” This number includes the economic value of congregations and other religious institutions, as well as “faith-based, faith-related, or faith-inspired businesses.” But Grim argues that this contribution is different from that of, say, a business that employs the same number of people.

Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations, ranging from paying hundreds of thousands of personnel to paying for goods and services as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance, and utilities. Almost all is spent right in the local community. Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings to lectures, conventions, and even tourism.

But it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest contribution. Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol-recovery programs such as the Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery program that has helped more than 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years. Congregations also provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment-service centers across the country (and world).

If we extend our view beyond what happens at local congregations and schools, we can find tens of thousands of other religiously affiliated charities, healthcare facilities, and institutions of higher learning also doing these sorts of good works every day. . . . There are thousands of religiously based colleges, such as Jewish-affiliated Brandeis University, throughout the country.

Religion-related businesses also add another $438 billion to the U.S. economy each year. These include faith-based enterprises, ranging from halal- and kosher-food industries to religious media such as [the Catholic] EWTN and the [evangelical] Christian Broadcasting Network. The largest group within this sector is not religious companies, per se, but faith-inspired or religion-friendly companies. Tyson’s Foods, for example, employs a large force of chaplains for its multireligious workforce.

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Read more at Deseret News

More about: American Religion, Charity, Economics

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy