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America's Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheistsby Rodney Stark
Synopses & Reviews
A few years ago, a debate between atheists and religious believers spilled out from the halls of academia and the pews of America’s churches and into the public spotlight. A crop of atheist manifestos led the charge, surmounting and holding the tops of the nonfiction bestseller lists. This offensive brought on an outpouring of religious rebuttals. As both sides exchanged spirited volleys, accusations were leveled; myths, stereotypes, and strawmen arguments were perpetuated; and bitter hostility filled the air. Today many of these misconceptions and myths linger on, along with the generally acrimonious spirit of the debate.
In America’s Blessings, distinguished researcher Rodney Stark seeks to clear the air of this hostility and debunk many of the debate’s most widely perpetuated misconceptions by drawing from an expansive pool of sociological findings. Looking at the measurable effects of religious faith and practice on American society, Stark rises above the fray and focuses exclusively on facts. His findings may surprise many, atheists and believers alike.
Starting with a historical overview, Stark traces America’s religious roots from the founding of the country up through the present day, showing that religiosity in America has never been consistent, static, or monolithic. Interestingly, he finds that religious practice is now more prevalent than ever in America, despite any claims to the contrary. From here, Stark devotes whole chapters to unpacking the latest research on how religion affects different facets of modern American life, including crime, family life, sexuality, mental and physical health, sophistication, charity, and overall prosperity. The cumulative effect is that when translated into comparisons with western European nations, the United States comes out on top again and again. Thanks in no small part to America’s rich religious culture, the nation has far lower crime rates, much higher levels of charitable giving, better health, stronger marriages, and less suicide, to note only a few of the benefits.
In the final chapter, Stark assesses the financial impact of these religious realities. It turns out that belief benefits the American economy—and all 300 million citizens, believer and nonbeliever alike—by a conservative estimate of $2.6 trillion a year. Despite the atheist outcry against religion, the remarkable conclusion is clear: all Americans, from the most religious among us to our secular neighbors, really ought to count our blessings.
"In this slim volume, Baylor University sociologist of religion Stark sets out to prove how religious people, by which he means committed, orthodox believers (read: evangelicals), contribute to a stronger, healthier and safer society. Stark has a beef with journalists and with secular academics, two groups he disparages for their perceived hostility to religion. Using various survey data, he shows that religious people commit fewer crimes, suffer less from depression, hold down better jobs, have happier marriages, and volunteer more than the non-religious — all metrics that contribute to a robust civic and economic life. Yet Stark's analysis seems caught up in the 1980s culture wars, and he offers simplistic reasoning lacking in nuance. He conveniently forgets that evangelicals, and especially Southern Baptists, have as high a divorce rate as the general population, for example. As for why less religious European nations have lower murder rates, he concludes it's because their citizens can't buy guns as easily. Religion may well have salubrious effects, and academia has come a long way since Freud and others labeled religion a form of mental illness. But this book, with its polemical slant, is unlikely to convince skeptics." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Rodney Stark is one of the leading authorities on the sociology of religion. For many years, the Pulitzer Prize nominee was professor of sociology and professor of comparative religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he became Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has authored more than 150 scholarly articles and 32 books, including several widely used sociology textbooks and best-selling titles like The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, and The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.
Table of Contents
Introduction / 3
Chapter 1: Creating Religious America / 9
Chapter 2: Crime and Prosocial Behavior / 37
Chapter 3: Fertility and Family / 57
Chapter 4: Sexuality 77
Chapter 5: Mental and Physical Health / 93
Chapter 6: Generous Citizenship / 113
Chapter 7: Achievement and Success / 133
Chapter 8: Intellectual Life / 147
Conclusion: Counting Our Blessings / 163
Notes / 169
Bibliography / 175
Index / 193
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