God Help Us All
Rector Chris Girata's latest article in the Katy Trail Weekly
For the first time ever, surveys show that there are as many atheists as Catholics and Evangelicals in the U.S. The number of “nones,” those adults who do not identify with any faith group (atheist, agnostic, etc.), has surged since the early 1970s, so now, they are statistically dead even with the other two largest faith groups.
I’m guessing this report doesn’t surprise you. It’s no secret that church attendance, and thus religious affiliation, has been declining for decades. The decline is across the board in every major U.S. religious group (the exception would be the very statistically small, yet growing, Muslim population). If you’re not active in a church, you might not be concerned with this decline. But you should be.
As religious affiliation declines, the rates of illness have climbed. In almost every health category, studies show that those who are connected to a faith community are healthier, happier and live longer. A recent Pew Research Center report shows that actively religious people are more likely than their non-religious neighbors to describe themselves as “very happy,” to join charitable and civic organizations, and to live longer.
The research doesn’t stop there. Countless other studies and surveys have shown similar results. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, a self-proclaimed atheist, reports that, “If you are having serious cardiac surgery and receive strength and comfort from your religious faith, you’ll be almost three times more likely to be alive six months later.” Scientists don’t know exactly why this is true, but they have their suspicions.
People who are connected to religious communities are simply less lonely. I don’t mean the feeling of loneliness — everyone feels that way every now and then — I mean that people who belong to religious communities are literally less alone. By their very nature, churches and other faith groups gather together regularly. People who attend those gatherings, whether they be for worship, study or service, get to know other people and get to be known by other people in a much deeper way than those who are unaffiliated.
Personal connection is desperately important for all of us. There are countless social platforms and specialized technologies that allow for people to “connect” with others, but the dark side of those connections is that they are rarely life-giving. When we post and like and share, we get a shallow sense of connection. But when we hug a friend, sing together, share a laugh or say a prayer, we connect in a very deep way. And that’s what I hope for all of you.
This brings me to the real point of this article: we need one another. We need one another to share our lives. We need one another to laugh and to cry, to lift us up when we fall and celebrate when we achieve. In addition, we need to know that we are not alone. The world can be a scary place when we feel disconnected, but when we find hope in one another and in God who loves us as we are, we can make the world a better place.
This Sunday, April 21 is Easter Day, and if you aren’t currently connected to a faith community, I encourage you to find one. But don’t go out of fear or obligation, go because of the invitation God gives to each of us. There are groups of good people all around you, good people who want to love you and need your love. Not because of anything you’ve done, but because God loved you first. There is a place for you, and this Sunday, I want you to begin to seek it out.
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