Dedicating his voyage "In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" and offering himself as an instrument of God, Christopher Columbus set sail into the great unknown on August 3, 1492. Approximately two months later -- 522 years from this very week -- Columbus' great ship Santa Maria de Immaculada Concepcion approached the New World. Upon arriving to the shore, he knelt to the ground, raised his eyes to Heaven, and proclaimed, "Blessed be the light of day, and the Holy Cross we say; and the Lord of Verity, and the Holy Trinity. Blessed be the light of day, and He who sends the dark away."

Christopher Columbus was a deeply pious man who structured his day around prayer and sacrifice. His true joy in discovering the Americas rested in this new opportunity to bring Our Lord's love to his brothers and sisters across the world. Columbus' legacy survived many trials and tribulations, and eventually fueled the formation of the great nation we live in today. Centuries later George Washington echoed Columbus' faith-filled vision, proclaiming, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness -- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."

Although both men were driven by divine inspiration, they also saw religion's pragmatic application. Social science data shows that religious practice, especially within an intact married family, is associated with a number of positive societal outcomes.

For example, studies show that religion promotes familial relationships. Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, and those in intact marriages who worship weekly were most likely to say they felt thrilled and excited during intercourse with their current sexual partner. Parents who attend religious services are more likely to enjoy a better relationship with their children and to be more involved in their children's education. A father's religious affiliation and religious attendance are positively associated with his involvement with his children in ways such as interacting one-on-one, having dinner with his family, and volunteering for youth-related activities.

Religious attendance is also associated with better education. Frequent religious attendance correlates with higher grades, lower dropout rates, greater school attachment, and higher educational aspirations. Overall, Students who attend church weekly while growing up have significantly more years of total schooling by their early thirties than peers who do not attend church at all.

Moreover, social science data shows that religious attendance boosts health. Greater longevity is consistently and significantly correlated with higher levels of religious practice and involvement, regardless of the sex, race, education, or health history of those studied. Young people who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving, riding with drunk drivers, driving without a seatbelt, or engaging in interpersonal violence. They are also less likely to smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or drink heavily. Not surprisingly, religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness.

Clearly, religious practice is imperative for a strong and altruistic community. Among those who feel compassion for the disadvantaged, religious respondents are 23 percent more likely to donate to charities at least yearly and 32 percent more likely to donate monthly than are their secular counterparts. Religious people are also more likely to volunteer. They are 34 percent more likely to volunteer at least yearly and 22 percent more likely to volunteer monthly.

Unfortunately, religion, particularly Christianity, is being attacked in America today. Data shows the pressing importance of reinfusing religious practice into society for the sake of the well-being of our nation, no matter what the cost. As Christopher Columbus said, "No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service."

Full citations can be found in MARRI's synthesis paper, "95 Social Science Reason for Religious Worship and Practice."