Meeting Report

May 15, 2011

Roy Sablosky

The Myth of Christian Charity

Braving an unseasonable storm, complete with thunder and hail, approximately thirty members and guests gathered on May 15 to hear Roy Sablosky’s talk. We were amply rewarded with a fascinating presentation.

In essence, Mr. Sablosky’s argument is that the apparent correlation between “charity” and “religiosity,” both ill-defined terms at best, is largely due to the sloppy gathering of data. For example, he cited the fact that writers rely on self-reporting to measure frequency of church attendance. But when more objective methods are used, as was done in an Ohio county by actually counting heads in pews, attendance amounts to about half that self-reported by correspondents.

He cited this kind of erroneous data mining in several texts, but most prominently in the acclaimed American Grace, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. Mr. Sablosky also questioned the authors’ use of basic terms (mentioned above): Is it right, for example, to include contributions made to support the physical plant and employees of a church “charity”? And exactly who is “religious?” Is it right to measure religiosity by how often a person goes to church, especially when church attendance is self-reported and therefore demonstrably biased?

Bottom line: Americans are not as religious as authors of best-selling books make us out to be.

Needless to say, Roy’s talk provoked a very lively question and answer session. Thank you, Roy, for your very informative presentation.

Report prepared by Roger Zabkie

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