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Spiritual Lives Would Help Nation

Sat., Feb. 24, 1996

This is the truth: You will live longer if you are engaged in regular religious practice.

Not only will you live longer, but you will be happier, your family will be stronger and you will have higher self-esteem. That’s the conclusion of a study of religious practice done by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

This should not be startling to anyone living in the United States, because we are probably, among developed nations, the most religious and pious. Almost 50 percent of the population attends worship in any given week. Seventy-eight percent pray at least once a week, and 57 percent say they pray daily.

If you regularly attend religious worship services, your marriage will have more stability, your moral code will be stronger and you’ll have fewer bouts with depression. The study also says religious people are not as likely to get killer diseases. As you can see, the benefits of regular religious practice are immense.

Also, this miracle of social consciousness doesn’t belong to one faith alone. You can be any flavor of Christian you want - Pentecostal, mainline or fundamentalist. You can be a Hindu and worship one of the millions of gods in that religion. You can be a Buddhist, with that faith’s emphasis on happiness and enlightenment. You can be a Muslim and adhere to the five pillars of Islam.

All you have to do is get into the habit of regular religious practice. And if we all did that, this country would be so much better we would think we were living in the vestibule of heaven.

I believe illegal drug use would go down along with crimes of all kinds. Families would stay intact, and children would grow up with a stronger moral foundation.

Eventually gangs would disappear, and we could walk the city’s mean streets without fear.

So, if this is true, and I believe it is, why does television ignore religion? Why is it true that movies almost never explore questions that have religious significance?

Those are exactly the questions the Heritage Foundation is asking in the just-completed study. The foundation wants government to begin a national debate on the benefits of regular religious practice.

The study calls for the president to appoint judges, especially on the U.S. Supreme Court, who are sensitive to religion. And the foundation wants the census in the year 2000 to ask questions that will reveal the intensity of religious practice in the United States.

Those measures are fine. But what I want more than those things is for religious leaders to get their backs up and hang a whopping criticism on those who have only negative things to say about religion. I think some religious leaders are wimps. They seem loath to criticize elements of the popular culture such as violence and sexual content in movies.

I can’t believe we are willing to tolerate and participate in the trashing of moral values in this country.

But the question is, how do we restore the influence of religion in our daily lives? That’s easy. We do religion. We participate in worship, Bible studies and social action projects. We stop carping and we get behind a national effort to rebuild a spiritual presence in our neighborhoods.

And we hit the streets with the religious message of our choice. Take your faith to the people. I believe we will feel better, and so will the nation.

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