"Faith, once the code that governed lives, is now seriously at odds with the mainstream of our values. Its message has become angular, countercultural, strange. It suggests rather than simply satisfying desires, one of the most important challenges of life is to know which desires to satisfy. It hints at needs that cannot be met in the marketplace, not least the most fundamental human need of all, the need for meaning. It reminds us that somewhere in the endless cycle of work and leisure, producing and consuming, we need to make space for exercise of the soul as well as the body. We need a diet high in ideals as well as fiber. Living long may not be entirely unconnected with living well, and living well may turn out to be a matter of establishing the right connections between us, others and the universe.

"So does faith help you live longer? I do not know, but there is a sentence in the apocryphal book Ecclesiastes that hints at an answer. 'Gladness of heart is the life of man, and the rejoicing of man is length of days.' Celebration is a psychological affirmation that has physical dimensions, and celebration is at the heart of faith. Whether or not it makes us live longer, it lets us live each day to the full. Faith is about how we live, not how long. But perhaps that is precisely the point. Happiness is elusive. You do not find it by pursuing it. Pursuing other things, it finds you — always provided that you are pursuing the right things.

"Faith encodes the long experience of humanity as it has sought to understand and respond to the mystery of existence. It helps us to live better, more generously, with less fear and more delight that we might otherwise have done. It teaches us to construct environments that honor the human spirit. It helps us to develop an appetite for life, to cherish the miracle of being, to celebrate in the midst of uncertainty. Perhaps that is its secret, its wisdom and its gift. Faith teaches us to make a blessing over life.”