The Magazine

God Helps Us

America remains as religious as you thought.

Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By WILLIAM MCKENZIE
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Latinos could influence the way evangelicalism shapes national politics, and we’re seeing it already in the immigration debate. Latino evangelicals like Reverend Samuel Rodriguez are speaking out for a broad reform of policies, not just tighter security along the border. Look for more such influence. Look, also, for the role that baby boomers could play in religion in general. The older people get, the more likely they are to turn to some kind of faith, a point that Newport backs up with data. If those of us who are boomers follow this time-honored trend, we could become a growth industry for churches and other houses of faith. I had not thought of the possibility before reading this book, but what an irony if boomers, a generation known in part for self-absorption, should fuel religious growth on our way out.

The part of the book that caught me most off-guard, and that is worth the cover price, is the section that deals with the link between religion and health. I was genuinely skeptical when I started reading Newport’s explanation of data that show how people of faith tend to enjoy better health. I still don’t know what to do with the point: All sorts of people could use it to create a new prosperity gospel, preaching that virtuous living leads to good health. But what would that mean to the religious person who ends up with cancer? 

Still, the research that Newport presents is compelling. There is, for example, a table that shows that Americans who consider themselves “very religious” enjoy higher rates of “well-being” than both moderately religious and nonreligious Americans. The Gallup-Healthways “Well-Being Index” shows very religious Americans reporting higher rates of emotional and physical health, as well as greater rates of healthy behaviors. The same is true of the correlation between the degree of religiousness and worry, stress, and anger. Very religious Americans experienced less of those emotions than the moderately religious or nonreligious.

Some of these findings make me squeamish: You can almost hear the religious marketing agents hyping the connection between faith and health, promising a stress-free life. (Of course, the last time I checked, some of the greatest martyrs experienced a good deal of stress.) Still, the data show that something is going on. And that is the compelling part of God Is Alive and Well, which you would expect from a Gallup editor’s work. But Newport presents his information clearly in this easy-to-read book, a book that is important to read, as well, if you want to find out more about the state of religion in America.

William McKenzie, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, moderates the Texas Faith blog at DallasNews.com.