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People who attend religious services weekly and have three to five close friends in their congregation are most likely to say they are “extremely satisfied” with life compared with people who attend services less often or have fewer friends there, said Chaeyoon Lim, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and co-author of the study with Harvard public policy professor Robert D. Putnam.

“One of the important functions of religion is to give people a sense of belonging to a moral community based on religious faith,” said Mr. Lim.

I realize that as profound as these findings are, they may not quite stir the human heart. So let me illustrate the point with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The focus of this beloved story is the suffering and spiritual awakening of the miserable, nonreligious Ebenezer Scrooge.

Surrounding him on his journey are all manner of very religious folk, including men who seek charity for the poor and families who celebrate Christmas whether in poverty (the Cratchits) or wealth (Fred, Scrooge’s nephew).

The tale conveys the generosity, kindness, unconditional love and hope that comes from being part of a community of faith, and then ends with Tiny Tim’s prayer, “God bless us, every one.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at