The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Miracle-Working Angels vs. Divorce-Dealing Lawyers

The benefits of growing up in an intact family may transcend the normal limits of human understanding.  In a study recently completed at Williams College, sociologist Nicolette D. Manglos adduces evidence that, compared to peers from broken homes, adolescents and young adults from intact families are significantly more likely to report that God is working miracles in their lives.

Investigating what she labels “faith pinnacle moments,”  Manglos pores over data collected from 2,104 nationally representative young people who were surveyed three times between July 2002, when they were ages 13 to 17, and April 2008, when they were 18 to 24.  In particular, Manglos focuses on responses to the question, “In the past two years, have you witnessed or experienced what you believe was a miracle from God?”

Remarkably, among the strongest statistical predictors of replying affirmatively to this question was “having experienced a trauma— . . . a traumatic illness or accident happening to one’s self or a family member.”  Manglos interprets this finding against the background of previous research establishing that “various aspects of religiosity can also protect against the negative consequences of stress.”  What is more, Manglos regards such miracles in times of stress as “faith pinnacle moments [that orient] the individual in the world in reference to a beneficent God.”  “Such emotion-laden perceptions,” she plausibly argues, “can powerfully influence outcomes and behaviors later in life.”

However, one of the strongest statistical predictors of a negative to the survey question about divine miracles is—and Manglos underscores this—likewise a type of stress, albeit a very different one.  As it turns out, compared to peers from intact families, young people who have experienced a parental divorce are significantly less likely to report that God had been working miracles in their lives.

In interpreting the linkage between parental divorce and the disappearance of miracles, Manglos suggests that “the young adults’ damaged family relationships are . . . projected onto their relationship with God.”  After all, she remarks, “people do seem to relate to God in ways that are similar to their relationships with parents.”  It is therefore understandable that earlier research has shown that “family disruptions and breakups, and poor parental relationships more generally, . . .  correlate negatively with religious involvement in later life.”

Manglos justifies her line of inquiry by stressing that “certain beliefs about God have been shown to support subjective well-being.”  Most Americans, however, will recognize that the effects of God’s miracle-working power extend far beyond the vale of tears in which sociologists awkwardly plumb that power with such jargon. 

(Nicolette D.  Manglos, “Faith Pinnacle Moments: Stress, Miraculous Experiences, and Life Experiences in Young Adulthood,” Sociology of Religion 74.2 [2013]: 176-98)