In his 1971 song “Imagine,” John Lennon asks us to envision a secular utopia. There’s no heaven, no hell. Peace and harmony reign, and a global “brotherhood of man” flourishes. Amid this blissful state of affairs, of course, we find “no religion.”
Lennon was a talented songwriter, but when it came to theology, he was 180 degrees off. A world free of religion would certainly have no heaven. But there would be plenty of hell -- and right here on earth.
This isn’t simply the opinion of a lady who takes her faith seriously. A large and growing body of social science research shows what a huge difference religious faith makes in our everyday lives. It’s no overstatement, in fact, to say that religion makes civil society possible. Without it, just about every indicator of human misery would be off the charts.
For a concise yet comprehensive catalog of just how bad things could be, take a look at a startling new paper by Pat Fagan, The Heritage Foundation’s premier social-science researcher. In it, he sifts through countless studies that show the remarkable effect of religion on marriage, divorce, childrearing, drug/alcohol abuse, out-of-wedlock births -- even mental and physical health.
Start with an area near and dear to my heart -- family relations. My husband and I have raised our three teenagers in a loving, religious household. Our faith in God has sustained us in good times and bad, and it has been a steady source of inspiration, comfort and encouragement. So I was particularly pleased to read the following in Fagan’s paper:
“Compared with mothers who did not consider religion important, those who deemed religion to be very important rated their relationship with their child significantly higher … When mothers and their children share the same level of religious practice, they experience better relationships with one another. For instance, when 18-year-olds attended religious services with approximately the same frequency as their mothers, the mothers reported significantly better relationships with them, even many years later … Moreover, mothers who became more religious throughout the first 18 years of their child’s life reported a better relationship with that child, regardless of the level of their religious practice before the child was born.”
The same holds true for fathers: