Deaths of despair are on the rise in our country. What is the role of the church?

Today our society is suffering from an epidemic of self-harm, culminating in the most final form of suffering on this earth—in “deaths of despair.”

These deaths speak to the harm inflicted on oneself through overdosing, suicide, or health issues from alcoholism. They manifest despair as a way of coping (or trying to end) one’s suffering of physical or mental pain.

A new study makes the case that a loss of religion has played a significant part in this rise. This does not necessarily entail atheism, as many of these people may continue to believe in God or some other kind of spirituality. Rather, it involves no longer participating in organized religion within a faith community.

Previous research has shown that men and women who regularly attended religious services at least once a week were less likely to die of despair. Which means, as Tyler VanderWeele and Brendan Case point out in a CT article, “Empty pews are an American public health crisis.”

The individualization of religion and the isolation of its experience are two factors contributing to this trend. We live in times of great confusion regarding how God created us—and among the lies we struggle with is believing that community is something we can take or leave.

When God declared of Adam “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), he revealed that he’d created human beings to be inherently social by nature. What was good for Adam was community, of which his marriage to Eve was the first manifestation.

The partnership of marriage, as well as other communities today—including neighborhoods, civic organizations, and political affiliations—all lack sufficient or healthy participation. This results …

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