Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Deseret News on July 3, 2016, and has been reprinted here with permission.
In 1831, 26-year-old Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States to “examine, in detail … the American society which everyone talks of and no one knows.” His careful observations, later published in the well-known "Democracy in America," describe with admiration “the image of democracy” he identified in the “American character.”
But his observations also include a warning. As renowned sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues discuss in "Habits of the Heart," Tocqueville feared that “some aspects of our character—what he was one of the first to call ‘individualism’—might eventually undermine the conditions of freedom.”
For Tocqueville, the key to restraining the destructive side of individualism, thereby protecting liberty, was religious belief and participation. His observations of American life led him to conclude, “Liberty regards religion as its companion … as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom.” Without the influence of religion, he warned, Americans would undermine the conditions of their own freedom.
Without the influence of religion, Tocqueville warned, Americans would undermine the conditions of their own freedom.
At a time when religion is often dismissed in the larger culture as either a relic of the past or simply a source of irrational, bigoted thought, it is worth taking a look at how religious involvement influences life and well-being in America. What becomes immediately apparent is that Tocqueville was not far off. Religious belief and involvement have a powerful [and] positive influence on society.
Consider the influence of religious involvement on marriage. Decades of research indicate that religious attendance is linked to marital satisfaction, less likelihood of divorce, and a stronger inclination toward marrying. Marriages in which both spouses attend church regularly are “2.4 times less likely” to divorce than those in which neither spouse attends church. Other research found that “religious attendance” was the most important predictor of marital stability. Studies of women’s marital satisfaction specifically found that the happiest marriages were those in which both spouses shared a strong commitment to marriage and attended church together.