The beneficial effects of religious worship on family stability clearly indicate one way to help accomplish this. Young people see love as the central aspect of the meaning of life; they believe that religion is still important in helping form judgments and attitudes." Their conclusion: "family and religious institutions need to be studied simultaneously in our efforts to understand the human condition better." "Middletown," one of the century's classic sociological research projects, studied the lives of inhabitants of a typical American town, first in the 1920s and for the third time in the 1980s.
They saw themselves as active agents of divine providence." Today, he adds, "it is generally accepted that more than half the American people still attend a place of worship over a weekend, an index of religious practice unequaled anywhere in the world, certainly in a great and populous nation." At the heart of religious practice is prayer: Americans pray even more than they go to church.
According to a composite of surveys, 94 percent of blacks, 91 percent of women, 87 percent of whites, and 85 percent of men regard themselves as people who pray regularly.
" Other reviews also list the positive effects of religious belief and practice in reducing such problems as suicide, substance abuse, divorce, and marital dissatisfaction.
Such evidence indicates clearly that religious practice contributes significantly to the quality of American life.
They learn well, make good citizens, and are invariably pleasant company.
It turns out that the practice of religion has a significant effect on happiness and an overall sense of personal well-being.Even this 10 percent may be explained by more recent social science insights into "healthy religious practice" and "unhealthy religious practice." This latter notion will be discussed later -- it is seen generally by most Americans of religious faith as a mispractice of religion.Unfortunately, the effects of unhealthy religious practice are used to downplay the generally positive influence of religion. This both distorts the true nature of religious belief and practice and causes many policymakers to ignore its positive social consequences.Religious affiliation and regular church attendance are near the top of the list for most people in explaining their own happiness and serve as good predictors of who is most likely to have this sense of well-being. Happiness is greater and psychological stress is lower for those who attend religious services regularly. Those pursuing a personal relationship with God tend to have improved relationships with themselves and with others. A large epidemiological study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley in 1971 found that the religiously committed had much less psychological distress than the uncommitted. Rodney Stark, now of the University of Washington, found the same in a 1970 study: The higher the level of religious attendance, the less stress suffered when adversity had to be endured. Similarly, in a longitudinal study of 720 adults conducted by David Williams of the University of Michigan, regular religious attendance led to much less psychological distress. In 1991, David Larson, adjunct professor at the Northwestern and Duke University Schools of Medicine and president of the National Institute of Healthcare Research, completed a systematic review of studies on religious commitment and personal well-being.He found that the relationship is powerful and positive; overall, psychological functioning improved following a resumption of participation in religious worship for those who had stopped. There is a growing consensus that America needs to pursue policies aimed at re-strengthening the family. Henry of Brigham Young University's Department of Sociology sum up earlier research on the quest by young people for meaning and love: "Research on love clearly indicates that for many, love in the social realm cannot clearly be separated from love that contains a vertical or a divine element....From their nationwide surveys of strong families, they found that 84 percent identified religion as an important contributor to the strength of their families. It should be noted that the same pattern appears to hold for African-American families: Parents who attended church frequently cited the significance of religion in rearing their children and in providing moral guidelines. Marital Satisfaction Couples with long-lasting marriages indicate that the practice of religion is an important factor in marital happiness.Indeed, David Larson's systematic reviews indicate that church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability. Others have found the same result. Twenty years ago it was first noted that very religious women achieve greater satisfaction in sexual intercourse with their husbands than do moderately religious or non-religious women. The Sex in America study published in 1995, and conducted by sociologists from the University of Chicago and the State University of New York at Stonybrook, also showed very high sexual satisfaction among "conservative" religious women. From the standpoint of contemporary American media culture, this may appear strange or counter-intuitive, but the empirical evidence is consistent.Some 78 percent pray at least once per week, and 57 percent pray daily.Even among the 13 percent of the population who call themselves agnostics or atheists, some 20 percent pray daily. When policymakers consider America's grave social problems, including violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency, they should heed the findings in the professional literature of the social sciences on the positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion. For example, there is ample evidence that: The overall impact of religious practice is illustrated dramatically in the three most comprehensive systematic reviews of the field. Some 81 percent of the studies showed the positive benefit of religious practice, 15 percent showed neutral effects, and only 4 percent showed harm. Each of these systematic reviews indicated more than 80 percent benefit, and none indicated more than 10 percent harm. Political leaders as diverse as President Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich all have articulated popular concerns and fears about the level of the breakdown of American society.Almost simultaneously, Americans are becoming aware of the fundamental contribution that married family life and regular religious practice can make to preserving that society.