What is it about friends-at-church that fosters good citizenship? It could be that requests to get involved carry more moral weight when they come from someone you know through your congregation rather than work or your bowling team. Or perhaps religious congregations simply foster peer pressure to do good. At this point, we do not know the precise magic civic ingredient in religious friendships.
Not knowing exactly how religious friendships foster good neighborliness thus leaves open the possibility that the same sort of effect could be found in secular organizations. But they would probably have to resemble religious congregations ”” close-knit communities with shared morals and values. Currently, though, such groups are few and far between. (Communes might qualify, for example.)
So, does religion help or harm our civic life? The answer is a little of both. Religion means less tolerance but more neighborliness. And the reason for that neighborliness is not found in what religions teach but in the communities they form.
All of this should give both religion’s fans and foes food for thought.