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Spiritual Enterprise Institute Looking at the Spiritual State of the Union

The purpose of the Spiritual Enterprise Institute is straight forward: It has a clear vision that comes directly from conversations with the legendary financial entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir John Templeton. Founded in 2005, SEI focuses on the research, lessons and potential value of understanding spirituality as an essential component of economic development and progress. It carefully targets opinion leaders to learn more about the significance of spiritual capital and the enterprises it generates, across a range of issues relevant to leaders and the media in the private, public and social sectors.

Recently, the Spiritual Enterprise Institute inaugurated an annual Gallup Poll on the “Spiritual State of the Union” to examine the role of both individual and corporate spiritual commitment in American life. Although survey respondents provided their own definitions to “spirituality,” the working definition is deemed to be “sensitivity or attachment to religious values and things of the spirit rather than worldly or material interests.”

One of the most noteworthy projects undertaken by the Institute, the “Spiritual State of the Union” received a great deal of national attention when it was released last month, and reveals much about spiritual life in America today. Here are some of the most cogent Headline-catching findings:

Economic health is related to spiritual health.

Ethical issues were found most important to 50-64 aged group who attend church. Many so-called hot issues like gun laws, technology, overpopulation, education, don’t register very much or at all. Of non-economic issues, fuel oil prices are more important than anything else across all groups.

Regionally: people in the South care more about ethical/moral issues; in the East about terrorism; the Mid-West, Iraq; and far West, education.

Republicans care much more about moral decline, while Democrats care about poor leadership. Liberals are twice as unhappy about the general economy as Conservatives

Those whose faith shapes success and the spiritually committed are much more concerned about ethical/moral issues. The richer you are the better you think the economy is doing. The US economic system –capitalism- -is viewed as “basically OK.”

Our economy depends on the spiritual health of the nation.

The resounding answer is “a great deal!” – except for non-church goers.

In the South support is overwhelming for such a statement and a majority of activists and poor people believed this even more than the rich. In fact, many people have come to think that work makes the world a better place. The only disagreement is in our youngest workers who are more cynical.

Work is of value to the world.

Christians and the spiritually committed are most likely to completely agree. The poorer you are the more you agree that work is important. College graduates completely agree; the same as church goers. Republicans agree more so than Democrats but Independents agree the highest. Those in the East and West are most likely to disagree showing the existence of a coastal bias.

More than half of all Americans think being ethical will pay off economically.

85% mostly agree, across the nation. The highest totals for agreement were: satisfied workers, spiritually committed, faith-based, activists and entrepreneurs. Most people still think breaking the rules is a no-no and a significant population thinks that people are always ethical.

Open expressions of religion in the workplace are encouraged or tolerated by 79% of Americans.

People are equally split on prayer and religion at work, but the trend appears to be growing as a practice.

The Protestant work ethic is still alive and well.

Hard work may offer some guarantee of ultimate success according to half of those polled, however when asked whether the strength of the US is based on business: 77% agree; 82% of Republicans vs. 71 % of Democrats.

Government regulation does more harm than good: 60 % argue.

Success in life is determined by spiritual forces: 58% agree. Government however is no longer viewed as the savior or even first agent for change and betterment.

Belief in God remains high.

82% believe in Him; but increasingly many see themselves as spiritual not necessarily religious. When asked: Does God want us to find work that suits our talents, 87% agree. Asked Does God want us to be useful to the world, 91% agree. Asked if faith equals purpose in life, 69% agreed. The least likely to agree: young, males with college degrees who infrequently go to church and have high incomes.

People with a purpose are satisfied in their work and believe their faith shapes success.

When asked are you spiritually committed: just under 65% said yes. Faith encourages development of God-given talents 65% vs. 87% of religious.

Political divisions may run deep in America but the spiritual health of the nation is viewed as critically important.

When asked: Are you happy with whom you are: 88% said basically yes. College graduates and church-goers were the happiest at 92%. 63% of all Americans found the spiritual health of the country to be very important.

People can no longer be trusted.

59% said you can’t be too careful. Trust is out the window! Distrust is highest in 18-34 age groups and in frequent church goers. 69% of the poorest income people lack any trust. Who has hope? Women who attend church and are satisfied in their jobs.

Americans are very generous people.

65% of Americans volunteer a great deal or some of the time vs 89% for the spiritually committed. There is such a thing as spiritual capital. Where do people volunteer? Church 85%; Charity 53%, School 37%. How many Dollars a year do they actually give? $100 18%; $500 30%; $1000 17%; $5000 22%.

In his executive summary of the poll, George Gallop suggests that the survey marks rapid shifts in American attitudes as well as confirmation of the critical underpinning of religious and spiritual beliefs as they relate to managing current problems, the economy and work; volunteerism and the giving of money; meaning and purpose in life; and one’s outlook to the future.

My one, personal take-away from the research is close to the mission of SEI and is good news: The 18th Century concept of a Protestant work ethic has not only survived the 20th century waves of communism, fascism, socialism, secularism, and the welfare state, but may be positioned for a resurgence.

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