Quasi-conservative David Brooks writes about the worldly success of the quasi-religious. He’s probably right that, so long as people live on their accumulated moral and communal capital, they’ll be relatively successful in this world. But he doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that, over time, they’ll fritter it away. And he also seems to overlook the possibility that sincere, orthodox, and thoughtful folks can also do quite well in this world, even if it’s not their principal aim.
You can find an abstract of the paper on which he bases some of his conclusions here. I have questions about whether his two principal "data points" actually describe the same people:
First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don’t. As Margarita Mooney, a Princeton sociologist, has demonstrated in her research, they work harder and are more engaged with campus life. Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don’t.
Both are plausible as observations, but I wonder whether the causality works the same way in both cases. Students from "denominations that encourage dissent," for example, may also come from educated families that encourage hard work for purely secular or worldly reasons.
I’ve contacted Dr. Mooney to ask for a copy of the paper from which Brooks draws his evidence. I’ll let you know what I think if and when I receive it.