StatsCan proposes, God disposes

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Are good marriages made in heaven?

Globe and Mail Saturday, September 19, 1998

Explaining the ways of God to man may not be nearly as confusing as explaining the ways of God to Statistics Canada. This week the federal data-gathering agency released a study that seemed to show godliness reinforces marriages.

Specifically, people who attended religious services at least once a week were significantly more likely to: (1) think marriage is essential to happiness; (2) stay married longer; (3) be happier in marriage than people whose religious attendances were sporadic or nonexistent.

But how exactly does a religious life shore up marriage? "With this kind of study, we cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship," said Warren Clark, the analyst who produced the Statscan study. Indeed, Alan Mirabelli, of the Vanier Institute for the Family, interpreted the findings as meaning it wasn't the power of faith but the family social-support component of organized religions that was being measured.

Reasonable. But even the mighty Statistics Canada has limits, especially when it comes to measuring the effect of God on man. Could a mere mortals' survey determine how "the spirit of the Lord" would affect married life? Or, more to the point, can we ever prove that God does bless the marriages of those who believe?

This presents us with a modern metaphysical problem. Numbers are iconic in our age. Statistics elevate social trends from the anecdotal to the general. But we can only measure what is measurable. If something is of the spirit, apparently it can't be quantified.

But just because statisticians can't poll for it, doesn't mean the spirit isn't there. The life of religious people may be different not because they follow certain rules and consort with similar thinking people, but because being religious changes you. Religion makes marriage, for lack of a better word, holy.

We don't say this is so, but lacking any evidence to the contrary, we entertain the prospect that what makes godly people's unions truly different is the blessings of their God.

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