The three Latin American countries ranked the most content among 24 nations surveyed in the Pew report. In Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador, a majority of both churchgoers and religious nones identified as “very happy,” double as many as in the US or Germany and triple as many as Spain or Russia.
In the No. 1 country, Mexico, 71 percent of actively religious adults were very happy—the vast majority being Catholic—compared to 64 percent of those who weren’t active in their faith and 61 percent of the unaffiliated. Yet, Mexico has faced climbing murder rates, which reached a record-high last year as clashes with drug cartels grew more deadly.
In Colombia, 58 percent of actively religious adults were very happy, compared to 55 percent of inactive members and 53 percent of those with no religious affiliation. Even a few years after a peace agreement between the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the country continues to suffer gang violence, guerrilla attacks, drug trafficking, and corruption.
“Colombia is almost in chaos, in a moral state of emergency, and needs to get its values in order,” Viviane Morales, an evangelical politician who ran for president last year, told CT. Urging a position of forgiveness and reconciliation, she said, “We cannot allow political forces dividing the country to manipulate the church.”
Researchers suggested several factors contributing to the correlation between happiness and active faith; religious folks may be happier because they are more involved in their religious community, or they may be more willing to get involved since they’re happier already.
In Colombia, where Protestants are more likely than the Catholic majority to attend services regularly, 42 percent of active worshipers said they participate in a community organization outside their church, compared to 39 percent of the religiously unaffiliated and 38 percent of inactive believers. Similarly, 41 percent of religiously active Mexicans belong to other organizations, compared to 36 percent of the religiously unaffiliated and 35 percent of inactives.
The gap is slightly larger in the US, where 58 percent of the actively religious are involved in charity, sports, or labor groups, versus 51 percent of inactive members and 39 percent of the unaffiliated.
Pew found that “a higher percentage of actively religious adults in the United States (69%) say they always vote in national elections than do either inactives (59%) or the unaffiliated (48%).” The same was true for the actively religious in 9 of the 24 countries polled on this measure.
Some sociologists have linked these voting patterns with the influence of “social capital” among church communities (members are more likely to know others who are voting, be encouraged or reminded to vote, etc.).
Voter turnout by certain groups can shape the outcome of individual races. Many cited the strong showing by black women and dampened turnout by white evangelicals as factors in Roy Moore’s defeat in a special election for Senate in 2017.
But folks who are less likely to show up on Sundays are less likely to show up on Election Day. According to the Pew analysis, the decline in religious affiliation isn’t having as big an effect on society as the decline of religious involvement.
“Regular participation in a religious community clearly is linked with higher levels of happiness and civic engagement (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations),” researchers wrote. “ This may suggest that societies with declining levels of religious engagement, like the U.S., could be at risk for declines in personal and societal well-being.”