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CULTURE DIGEST: Money does not mean happiness, study says; Barack Obama calls on evangelicals to assimilate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The common belief that people who make more money are happier is mostly an illusion, according to a study appearing in the June 30 issue of the journal “Science.”

“People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities,” the study led by two Princeton University professors found. “Moreover, the effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient.”

Researchers examined data gleaned from a 2004 study and a 2005 study of working women in Texas and Ohio and discovered that higher income played a relatively small role in people’s daily happiness. They limited the studies to women because they wanted to use a homogeneous group, a Princeton news release said.

“We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their life or the lives of others,” researchers wrote.

Women who participated in the study were asked to report the percentage of time they spent in a bad mood the previous day and to predict how much time people with certain income levels spend in a bad mood. The respondents expected women who earned less than $20,000 a year to spend 32 percent more of their time in a bad mood than they expected people who earned more than $100,000 a year to spend in a bad mood.

“In actuality, respondents who earned less than $20,000 a year reported spending only 12 percent more of their time in a bad mood than those who earned more than $100,000,” the study found, according to the news release. “So the effect of income on mood was vastly exaggerated.”

Furthermore, the study incorporated results from a nationwide Bureau of Labor Statistics survey which said people with higher incomes devote relatively more of their time to work, shopping, childcare and other obligatory activities. People with higher incomes were found to spend less time on activities such as socializing or watching television, which are often deemed more leisurely.

Money does not play a significant role in day-to-day happiness, Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton and an author of the study, told The Washington Post. Though money can purchase possessions, it does not usually abolish the most basic struggles common to people today — concerns about children, relationship problems and job stress.

“People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being,” Krueger told The Post.

OBAMA ASKS EVANGELICALS TO ASSIMILATE — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, considered a possible Democratic nominee for president in 2008, told left-leaning religious leaders at the Call to Renewal’s “Building a Covenant for a New America” conference June 28 that in order to sort through some of the “bitter arguments” about religion in America today, evangelicals need to water down their views to fit in better with the rest of society.

“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values,” Obama said at the event in Washington. “It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

“Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do,” he added. “But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Obama demands the impossible.

“Sen. Obama seems to believe in the myth of a universal reason and rationality that will be compelling to all persons of all faiths, including those of no faith at all,” Mohler wrote on his weblog June 30. “Such principles do not exist in any specific form usable for the making of public policy on, for example, matters of life and death like abortion and human embryo research.

“This is secularism with a smile — offered in the form of an invitation for believers to show up, but then only to be allowed to make arguments that are not based in their deepest beliefs,” Mohler wrote.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW USED AGAINST LUTHERAN SCHOOL — The California Supreme Court ruled June 30 that two girls who were expelled from a Lutheran high school last fall can sue the school under the state’s anti-discrimination law on the grounds that they were kicked out because of homosexual behavior.

California’s Unruh Act prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, but the California Lutheran High School Association is trying to make the point that as a private religious academy, the school should be able to decide who is enrolled. Because they are not a business, they should be exempt from the rule, school officials say.

But the court unanimously denied an appeal by the school and cleared the path for the students’ lawsuit to proceed to trial, the Associated Press reported. The 16-year-old girls were expelled last September when their behavior was deemed “contrary to Christian decency,” and a lawsuit was filed in December claiming the girls’ civil rights were violated.

The lawsuit seeks readmission for the students, damages and the admittance of homosexual students to the Christian school, AP said.

John McKay, an attorney for the school, said he believes his clients have a good chance at winning the case based on prior decisions.

The constitutional guarantee of freedom of association overrules any state law that “forces the group to accept members that it does not desire,” he added, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling that said the Boy Scouts of America could choose not to use homosexual troop leaders.

W.VA. SCHOOL SUED OVER JESUS PICTURE — For more than 30 years, an artist’s rendering of Jesus hung in West Virginia’s Bridgeport High School without much of a fuss, but now Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union are suing to have it removed.

“This is a devotional artwork,” Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said June 29 on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes.” “That is to say it was intended to take believers and to impress people who may not be believers into an acceptance of Jesus as the Christ.”

Lynn added that he fears any child who walks by the painting might feel pressured into becoming a Christian because the child may assume his principal says Christianity is the religion each student ought to practice.

The local school board considered whether to remove the painting, but a vote resulted in a tie in June, according to the Associated Press.

The two civil liberties groups filed the lawsuit June 28 on behalf of two parents who have had or will have children at the school.

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  • Erin Roach