The Edmonton Journal, 25.10.98
By Lorne Gunter
Which came first the faith or the fidelity?
Statistics Canada says it is impossible to know. However, according to the state
number-crunchers 1995 General Social Survey, released last month, regular
attendance at religious services is related to stronger marriages.
Faithful people have happier, longer-lasting marriages. After decades of being told
otherwise by secularists, it is refreshing to see the slow dawning of the importance of
traditional virtues among researchers.
Warren Clark, an analyst at Statistics Canada, who wrote about the connection between
faith and healthy marriages in the Autumn edition of Canadian Social Trends, says
compared with those who never attended religious services, the odds that a weekly
attenders marriage would break down is less than half.
And the benefit is as real for couples who married in the 1980s as for those who
married in the 1950s. True, weekly attenders who married in the 1950s are more
likely to stay married than weekly attenders who married in the 1980s (96 per cent versus
80 per cent, after 15 years).
Yet, over the same period, the bottom fell out of the marriage market for
In 1950, 91 per cent of couples who never attended church, synagogue, temple or mosque
were still married after 15 years. By the 1980s, that figure had plunged to just 57 per
The 40 per cent of marriages that fail are, apparently, disproportionately the
marriages of couples with no strong faith.
In a backhanded way, the latest StatsCan numbers may confirm the secularist theory that
any coherent community can sustain healthy marriages. Religious communities offer no
In the 1950s, Canadas secular society was more cohesive (and more rigid), and
couples who never attended religious services stayed married in almost the same numbers as
weekly attenders. Then assorted social progressives began tearing apart non-religious
traditions and cultural values with as much vigour as they attacked religious ones.
The result is a diffuse, unfocused, heterogenous secular society. And the Great
Marriage Depression among non-religious couples who now have neither a religious
community nor a secular one to support them may be proof, in reverse, that the
secularists were right.
Forty years ago, both religious and secular societies argued against adultery, a
leading cause of divorce. Canadians could grab either anchor, or both. Today, that secular
anchor is gone.
Faithful couples stay together longer, Clark speculates, because acceptance of
biblical teachings about the sanctity of marriage...act as a barrier against divorce by
reducing the likelihood of infidelity.
StatsCan also determined that religious people had better mental health, were more
content with their lives, experienced less stress, were more forgiving of a spouses
misdeeds (except abuse and philandering), placed higher priority on having children, and
were more willing, by far, than non-believers to keep their marriages together for the
sake of those children.
Few theories are offered for this contentment gap between religious and non-religious
Canadians. Yet one seems obvious.
Even if their sincere goal is the common good, those who argue that individuals are
capable of establishing worthy moral codes and creating sustainable communities on their
own, are, in effect, placing self at the pinnacle of existence. Whereas those
with deep religious convictions believe in something greater than themselves, such as God.
In self-centred belief systems, sacrifice for others often has the practical effect of
removing one farther from the pinnacle. In most religious belief systems, by contrast,
sacrifice moves the sacrificer closer to the pinnacle.
For instance, staying together for the kids a sacrifice StatsCan discovered much
more often among faithful Canadians flys in the face of the dominant cultural view
that divorce is less harmful to children than life with parents who no longer love one
However, the dominant view is just a mask for selfishness, Whatever makes me
happy, will be better for my kids than what is making me unhappy. Much of the latest
research on child development indicates homes with both biological parents are better for
children than single-parent or blended-family homes, even if both biological parents are
discontented. The exception, of course, being abusive homes.
Religious Canadians, both men and women, were also significantly more likely to place
family ahead of career, and to agree with such statements as keeping a (home) is
just as fulfilling as working for pay; further indications of a willingness to place
others ahead of oneself.
Heaven knows (literally) that religious people have no monopoly on selflessness. Many
non-religious Canadians are equally capable of sustained selflessness.
Still, sacrifice is a trait more common among the faithful, which may
explain their greater success in creating happy marriages and families.