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Cultural Commentary

The surprising way to lower your risk of dying

Credit: PexelsThere's very good news in today's Cultural Commentary. But you'll have to look beyond the news to find it.

Today's headlines are not helpful to our quest for encouragement: Life expectancy for Americans is declining. Seventy-four percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, up nearly 50 percent from 2012. As the political season grinds to a conclusion, one woman quoted by The Washington Post spoke for many: "All of my friends and family are so ready for the country to move beyond this election. Me, too. I'd rather feel hopeful than hopeless."

To feel hopeful on this All Saints Day, don't look to your culture. Instead, look to your church. Here's why: a Harvard professor has shown that religious attendance will increase your health, happiness, and sense of purpose in life.

Tyler VanderWeele is professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. His research with Harvard colleagues indicates that attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Significantly better, in fact.

Adults who attend a religious service at least once a week have a much lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half. They are more optimistic and have lower rates of depression. Churchgoing protects against suicide and provides greater purpose in life. Attending religious services also increases the likelihood of a stable marriage and leads to greater charitable giving and civic engagement.

It's especially noteworthy in our "spiritual but not religious" culture that general spirituality does not provide such benefits. As the author notes, "Research has shown that service attendance, rather than private spirituality or solitary practice, strongly predicts health. Something about communal religious participation appears to be essential" (his emphasis).

This news comes at a crucial time for a nation which seems to become more divided with each election. William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar and former official in Bill Clinton's administration, explains: "If the central promises of modern politics are peace and prosperity, we haven't really had either for a long time. That created an atmosphere of discontent and protest that affected both political parties this year." Thus we witnessed the emergence of Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer adds, "More and more of the electorate sees themselves as almost living in two separate worlds. And when this happens, you tend to vilify the opponent. It's not simply another view, it's an intolerable view."

Our nation has never needed the unity and community found in Christ more than we need them today. The closer we draw to Jesus, the closer we draw to each other. The inclusiveness of All Saints Day is the prism through which God wants us to view our culture and ourselves.

Don't let politics divide you from your fellow believers. What unites us is far more important than what separates us. We are Christians before we are Americans, Republicans, Democrats, or independents.

The world will know we follow Jesus not by how we vote but by how we love (John 13:35).

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