Jerry Maguire yelled Show me the money. James said Show me your good works. And a new study says How about both? According to the findings from Brian and Melissa Grim, “Religion in the United States today contributes $1.2 trillion each year to our economy and society.” Published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, the Grims’ research reveals that the country has never been more dependent on the contributions religious people make to society, specifically from a socio-economic perspective. Religion may be dangerous to some but it is beneficial to all.
To put this figure into perspective, this is more than the annual revenues of the top ten tech organizations combined. This list includes Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Or to put it another way, this is what $1.2 trillion dollars looks like each year according to American spending habits:
Groceries ($478 billion), fast food ($117 billion), illegal drugs ($100 billion), beer ($96 billion), soft drinks ($65 billion), pets ($60 billion), tobacco ($40 billion), child care ($47 billion), gambling ($34.6 billion), dollar store purchases ($30 billion), professional sports ($25.4 billion), credit card late fees ($18 billion), video games ($17 billion), Easter ($16.8 billion), bottled water ($11 billion), engagement and wedding rings ($11 billion), coffee ($11 billion), romance novels ($10 billion), sinus treatments ($5.8 billion), perfume ($4.2 billion) and over-the-counter teeth whiteners ($1.4 billion).
All of this despite the uptick in those who classify themselves as religious nones.
These numbers provide evidence of what the Founding Fathers knew to be true. Central to the success of the United States is the freedom of religion. The Founding Fathers acknowledged that our rights come from God and that government is our shared project to protect and ensure those rights.
This great American experiment has been predicated upon the need for virtue. The Founders knew that religion, not any religion in particular, had the propensity to produce the virtue necessary in order to support the nation, especially in its infancy. Georoge Washington called religion one of the great pillars. According to Samuel Adams, religion and morality would be the “sure foundation” upon which our nation was built. James Madison noted: "To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea."
This religious freedom is not a license to do whatever one wants in the name of religion. Freedom of religion is far greater than freedom to worship. Whereas freedom to worship is for a limited time at a particular place, freedom of religion is a public outworking of a private matter. It crosses locations and stretches across all the days of the week. It can look like feeding the poor on Monday, working at a shelter for the homeless on Tuesday, taking care of the orphan and widow on Wednesday, spending Thursday morning mentoring the unemployed, and the list goes on and on as it is all done in Jesus’ name for Christians (Matthew 25).
Religion is a positive good for community to be protected and supported. As Brian Grim finds in previous research: “Wherever religious freedom is high, there tends to be fewer incidents of armed conflict, better health outcomes, higher levels of earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.”
We live and move in a culture that is increasingly skeptical towards religion, hostile towards religious people, and tired of hearing about religion liberty. This sentiment is best encapsulated in Julian Barnes newest work entitled Nothing to be Frightened of, when he writes: “I do not believe in God but I miss him.”
Our world may be skeptical of religion, but they are in need of the good from religion. Jerry Maguire wants to see the money, but the world needs to see our good religion.