Paul L. Caron

Sunday, January 29, 2023

David French: Faith, Not Politics, Can Heal Lonely Hearts And A Nation

David French, Can More Church Heal What Ails the Lonely Heart?:

[I want to talk about] the decline in church attendance, deaths of despair, and the necessity of community for hope and purpose.

Last week, my little corner of the online world lit up with people sharing a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper tying America’s ongoing decline in religious practice to the increase in “deaths of despair”—ones involving suicide, alcohol abuse, and drug overdose [Opiates of the Masses? Deaths of Despair and the Decline of American Religion].

The study, by Tyler Giles [Wellesley College], Daniel M. Hungerman [Notre Dame], and Tamar Oostrom [Ohio State], found that a “large decline in religious practice was driven by the group experiencing subsequent increases in mortality: white middle-aged Americans without a college degree.” And that’s not all:

We also show that there is a strong negative relationship across states between religiosity and mortality due to deaths of despair. We further find that states that experienced larger declines in religious participation in the last 15 years of the century saw larger increases in deaths of despair. Both the decline in religiosity and the rise in deaths of despair were driven by the same group of individuals in the same places.

French 2

To demonstrate the connection between declining religiosity and rising deaths, the authors examined the link between the repeal of blue laws (laws which regulate commerce on Sabbath days, traditionally Sunday), subsequent decreases in church attendance, and the rise in suicides, overdoses, and alcohol deaths. ...

It’s hard to think of an institution that can better provide hope and purpose than a well-functioning church. There is a reason John 3:16 is one of the most remembered verses in scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There is a reason Jeremiah 29:11 is framed in countless American homes: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

These verses provide a combination of eternal and temporal assurance of God’s loving nature. That doesn’t mean Christianity can’t be incredibly demanding (Jesus urged his disciples to take up their cross to follow him), but a demanding life is a purposeful life. ...

Politics does not provide the ultimate answer to our civic and cultural ailment. It is very difficult to imagine a series of government policies that can repair marriage, rebuild friendships, and reestablish the civic associations (including religious institutions) that are the lifeblood of our national community. Policy can help or hurt, of course, but it cannot cure what ails American culture. ...

This is a call not for political disengagement but for placing politics in its proper place. If we love and serve our neighbors, we can do something tangible to repair our national fabric—and perhaps even help save the lives of the lonely people all around us.

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