In 2008, I was teaching English in Moscow, Russia. After one of my classes, a middle-aged Russian woman lingered behind and we started talking about some of the differences between Russia and America.
Quite unexpectedly, she asked me my opinion as to why America was so wealthy and successful. I was caught off guard by her question and I mumbled some bumper-sticker sentiments about “hard work” and “freedom.”
“I think it’s religion,” she said simply.
Truthfully, I was shocked that she said that (after all, we were in a Russian school building). I furrowed my brow and asked her what she meant.
“Look at all those countries,” she said, gesturing to the large map behind me. “The most successful countries are the countries that practice religion. Especially,” she added, thoughtfully. “The Protestant religions.”
After another half hour or so, we finished our conversation and left the building. But in the years since then, I have thought a lot about what she said.
While I don’t believe that “religious” people are blessed with visible, measurable levels of wealth and success, I do believe that religion—when used properly—is a powerful force for good. Religion can refine our character and teach us timeless truths about life, love, and community.
It’s interesting to me that many Russians—after enduring seventy years of state-enforced atheism—seem to recognize the value of religion. In an column for the Los Angeles Times, Cal Thomas wrote this:
What could be more ironic? Americans are doing what they can to wipe out religion from public schools, while Russians are doing what they can to revive religion in their public schools. Having been without religious freedom for most of [the twentieth] century, Russians apparently see the value of what they lost. Their country having been established on the principles of religious values and expression, Americans flirt with paganism, unaware of what it is like to live in an anti-religious nation. It appears the Russians have learned something from us. It also appears we have learned nothing from them.
But what do you think? Do you think that people (and countries) become more successful if they practice religion? Do you think America’s success is based on its religious heritage? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts!