From The Christian Century:
The scholars say their studies found that religious Americans are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community than nonreligious Americans. They are more apt to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies and donate time and money to causes—including secular ones.
At the same time, Putnam and Campbell say, their data show that religious people are "nicer": they carry packages for people, don't mind folks cutting ahead in lines and give money to panhandlers.
The scholars say the link between religion and civic activism is causal, since they observed that people who hadn't attended church became more engaged after they did. "These are huge effects," Putnam said.
The reason for the increased civic engagement may come as a surprise to religious leaders. It has nothing to do with ideas of divine judgment or with trying to secure a seat in heaven. Rather, it's the relationships that people make in their churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that draw them into community activism.
Putnam calls them "supercharged friends," and the more such friends people have, the more likely they are to participate in civic events, he says. The theory is that if someone from your "moral community" asks you to volunteer for a cause, it's really hard to say no. "Being asked to do something by a member of your congregation is different from being asked to do something by a member of your bowling league," Putnam said.
The effect of these friendships is so strong, the scholars found, that people who attend religious services regularly but don't have any friends there look more like secularists than like fellow believers when it comes to civic participation.
"It's not faith that accounts for this," Putnam said. "It's faith communities."
Daniel Burke, Congregants make better citizens, says new study, The Christian Century, June 16, 2009, p. 16 (bold-faced emphasis added).