Opiate of the People?

With all the obsession with health these days, there's good news for church-going families. A new study just released demonstrates the link between active religious faith and personal well-being, including good health. It's a welcome rebuttal to the efforts by the secular elite to portray religion as a negative influence in our society. The study was authored by Patrick Fagan, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Fagan surveyed a wide range of social science data indicating that church attendance is the single most important predictor of marital stability. The study also backs earlier findings that religious practice instills the personal values that help move people out of poverty. The link between religious practice and healthy marriages—which in turn has a marked benefit on personal health—is also well established. According to a 1977 article by L.I. Pearlin and J.S. Johnson in The American Sociological Review, the most powerful indicator of mental health is marriage. It's no wonder that those who make religious faith a central part of their lives are healthier than those who believe they live in a Godless and purposeless universe. But even nonbelievers who honor the institution of marriage reap a benefit. A 1988 study reviewed in Social Sciences and Medicine found that marital status had more bearing on personal health than education and family income. The same scholars, Pearlin and Johnson, summarize that while "marriage does not prevent economic and social problems. . . [but] marriage can function as a protective barrier against the distressful consequences of external threats." Studies like these point to family disintegration as a major cause of myriad social problems. In my experience working with prisoners for over 20 years, I can attest to the almost unfathomable damage caused by broken homes. I can also attest to the healing power that religious faith brings to even the most hardened criminals. But people seem surprised at the relationship between religious practice and social good. I am reminded of a conversation with Britain's Prince Philip, who asked me during a Buckingham Palace reception what his country could do to lessen its own juvenile crime problem. "Send the children to Sunday school," I suggested. He chuckled as if I were joking. Then I told him about a study by Professor Christie Davies of Reading University that documented a direct correlation between decreased Sunday school attendance and increased crime. How do we put all this knowledge to work? There's a fine line between the Church as a leavening agent in the culture and the establishment of religion. But we have gone too far in the direction of ostracizing religious belief from our society. Pat Fagan is right when he says: "In an era when secular government is so pervasive that it deters [the] public expression of religion and its moral byproducts, [it is time for] the federal government. . .to give religion more public space and cite its social benefits." Call for a transcript to share with your friends who, like Prince Philip, may have doubts that faith can be good for you. Or with those people who think religious influence is dangerous for society. Religious faith is not a poison for individuals and society. It is the source of health for both body and soul.


Chuck Colson


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