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Posted November 30, 2005

Book: The Believer’s Edge: The Secret to a Healthier, Happier, More Significant Life
Author: Owen Phelps
The Durant Corporation, Durant, IL, 2005, pp. 130

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

In 2001, three dozen community foundations and other organizations released the results of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey – the largest survey ever conducted on the civic engagement of Americans.

The purpose of this study of nearly 30,000 people was to lay “the groundwork for a multi-year effort to rebuild community bonds.”

The survey discovered that the people most likely to be involved in working for the good of their communities are active in religious organizations. They’re also the people who are generally most tolerant of cultural diversity in our communities.


You are if you believe two common criticisms related to religion today. First, there’s the view that religion is primarily a divisive force in human affairs. Second, there’s the view that members of religious organizations are intolerant of others. If you’re inclined to accept either of these criticisms, consider these findings from the survey:

“Involvement in religious communities is among the strongest predictors of giving and volunteering both for religious and secular causes.”

“Religious people . . . are great at doing (things) for (others).”

“Religious involvement is positively associated with most other forms of civic involvement.”

“Religiously engaged people are more likely than religiously disengaged people to be involved in civic groups of all sorts, to vote, to be active in community affairs, to give blood, to trust other people (from shopkeepers to neighbors), to know the names of public officials, to socialize with friends and neighbors, and even simply to have a wider circle of friends.”

In short, the study found that communities benefit in many ways when their citizens are actively engaged in the practice of their faiths.

Not only do our villages, towns and cities benefit from people who are religiously active. Other studies suggest that people themselves benefit from their active association with religious organizatons.

In a phrase, active believers seem to lead healthier and happier lives.

The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey also reported something other studies have found: there is a big disconnect in America between having faith and practicing faith.

The survey found, for example, that 84% of the people questioned agreed that religion was very important to them. But only 58% were members of a local church and just 45% reported they engaged in religious activities about once a week or more.

A Gallup poll conducted in December 1999 reported similar results: 86% of those responding said they believed in God and another 8% said they believed in some kind of “universal spirit or higher power” — meaning that 94% of those surveyed were, in the broad sense, believers. Yet only 54% said they were religous.

Why this disconnect between belief and practice?

There is no one simple reason. People are complex, and so are their motivations — both for doing things and not doing them.

Social scientists have offered a number of possible reasons why so many people don’t integrate their beliefs and actions, and these scientists continue to search for even more definitive reasons. What they are learning can be fascinating.

This book has a more humble purpose. It does not explore why so many millions of believers shun religious affiliation and practice. It exists only to remind — with a simple parable — of real, practical and empirically verified benefits of belonging to and being active in a religious organization.

If you’re looking for a way to lead a happier, healthier and more meaningful life — or if you want to help someone else find a way to do that – this little book could be the key to unlocking that opportunity.

An Excerpt from the Book:

I didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to reach out to. But I couldn’t sit in my apartment and mope. I’d have a drink or two, then decide I didn’t want to drink alone, and so I’d go to a little lounge just down the street and spend the day there, trying to visit with whomever I could until I could barely talk. Then someone would suggest I go home. Sometimes I didn’t go home alone, and sometimes I didn’t go to my place. But usually I’d stagger back to my place alone and fall asleep on my couch. It had become a real pattern until an old friend from my high school days called — out of the blue, I thought then — and asked me to go to lunch. I poured my heart out to her and she got me some help. I didn’t want to cooperate at first, but she kept coming around and gradually convinced me to attend Alcoholics Anonymous with her. Turns out she had developed a problem while her husband was busy traveling and building his business, so I wasn’t walking that path alone. It was a long, slow process, and I confess I slipped more than once. But today, by the grace of God and the friends He has sent me, I’ve been dry for eight years.”

She lifted her coffee cup as if to make a toast and Derek found himself lifting his to softly clink against here. “Congratulations,” he said, relieved that the story had a brighter side.

“The thing is, Derek, it’s a painful process to confront the demons inside — especially if you’ve been feeding them all your adult life. But it’s an even bigger struggle to fill the voids.

For me the voids were huge. The one that’s been hardest for me is that I don’t have any children. When I wallowed in my self-pity, I could blame him. But gradually I came to see that I have to take responsibility for it. It’s part of the life I chose. It wasn’t a conscious decision. But it flowed as a natural consequence of decisions I did make. It’s an unspeakable loss, and it’s difficult for me to face up to the fact that it was my choice, my responsibility.

. . . By the grace of God, I have my faith community, and it has helped me beyond words fill voids that my friends in AA helped me see I was trying to fill with alcohol. So Derek, ultimately my story is a story of redemption, but it’s also a story of community. By God’s grace two communities saved me and those communities now help keep me on track, giving me the context in which to have a meaningful life.”

Table of Contents:

Active believers make good neighbors
Renewing acquaintance
Midlife malaise
Derek’s story
Jerry’s story
A precious gift
A close encounter
Mary’s story
Why me?
Joe’s story
Getting started
Breaking through