Robert Putnam's American Grace is coming out soon. Putnam famously wrote Bowling Alone. Putnam's book is reviewed at washingtonpost.com by Michal Gerson.
Gerson says American Grace is going to make some people unhappy, since it will show that, "against the expectations of hard-core secularists, Putnam asserts, "religious Americans are nicer, happier and better citizens." They are more generous with their time and money, not only in giving to religious causes but to secular ones. They join more voluntary associations, attend more public meetings, even let people cut in line in front of them more readily. Religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than the unaffiliated."
In our community, as regards our huge and successful efforts to see that no one goes without food and a meal every day of the week, it's a 100% "religious" (Christian) effort. Our church is one that has been at the forefront of this very good thing. I've many times served with our people and others in our Godworks Soup Kitchen meals. And, I remember inviting a local leading atheist, in a private discussion, to serve with me. He refused. Of course that's a very, very small sampling. But it appears that Putnam, of Harvard, finds what's happening on our city to be close to the norm.
Gerson: The politicization of religion by the religious right, argues Putnam, caused many young people in the 1990s to turn against religion itself, adopting the attitude: "If this is religion, I'm not interested." The social views of this younger cohort are not entirely predictable: Both the pro-life and the homosexual-rights movement have made gains. But Americans in their 20s are much more secular than the baby boomers were at the same stage of life. About 30 to 35 percent are religiously unaffiliated (designated "nones," as opposed to "nuns" -- I was initially confused). Putnam calls this "a stunning development." As many liberals suspected, the religious right was not good for religion...
...But Putnam regards the growth of the "nones" as a spike, not a permanent trend. The young, in general, are not committed secularists. "They are not in church, but they might be if a church weren't like the religious right. . . . There are almost certain to be religious entrepreneurs to fill that niche with a moderate evangelical religion, without political overtones."
This rings true to me. The 70-100 philosophy students I teach every year, while incerasingly uninterested in Christian and religious politics, are overwhelmingly, even phenomenally, interested in "religious" things like talking about God, spirituality-issues, and so on. My interaction with college students has generated countless phone and personal (over coffee :)) conversations.