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America's Blessings

How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists

Rodney Stark

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.   

Coming Soon! www.americasblessings.com

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

“Well-written, well documented, powerfully persuasive.  Even secularists and atheists will be impressed—although some will not want to admit it!”

Steve Forbes

America’s Blessings makes a vital contribution to an underappreciated aspect of American exceptionalism. Stark eloquently shows how religion’s benefits in this unusually religious country fall not just on believers but also on those who profess no religious beliefs if they happen to live near those who do. As a master social scientist, he does not ask us to accept this as an act of faith but provides compelling data about ‘the religious effect’—on crime, charity, health, family life, achievement, education, and more. Despite claims about increasing secularization, religious America is alive and well and, as a result, so is the rest of America.”

Arthur C. Brooks, president, American Enterprise Institute

This careful and well-written book, unsurprisingly coming from the Templeton Press, is based on well-selected samples and professional standards of analysis. Its report, ranging across crime, family stability, sexuality, mental and physical health, achievement and philanthropy, indicates that faith makes a measurable and crucial difference. It is a valuable and courageous study.”

Iain R. Torrance, President of Princeton Theological Seminary and Former Moderator of the Church of Scotland

Midwest Book Review–February 2013

America’s Blessings provides a powerful debate on religion’s positives for all and comes from a researcher who considers the lasting impact of faith on American society as a whole. His history focuses on America’s religious roots from its founding to modern times, considering the latest research on how religion affects American life and values and analyzing the financial impact of religion. Belief benefits the American economy – this book outlines all the ways belief enhances life in the country, and is a pick for spirituality collections and general social issues holdings, as well.”

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology–Spring 2013

The book makes a significant contribution because there are few, if any, works like it. Stark set out to provide a “full accounting of the tangible…benefits of faith” because given the anti-religion rhetoric prominent in contemporary dialogue, such an accounting is sorely needed. Furthermore, Stark is the one to present this comprehensive treatment. He is a respected and accomplished authority on the sociological effects of religion serving on the faculty of one of the most prestigious universities in the land. The book itself wastes no time on platitudes, unfounded assertions, or the purely subjective. It is a serious, carefully researched, well-justified, and impeccably rational defense of the beneficial role of religion in American society.

Desert News–September 28, 2013

In “America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists,” the respected and prolific sociologist Rodney Stark draws a number of striking conclusions after surveying the relevant data. I summarize a few of them here, but I cannot do justice to Professor Stark’s extraordinarily interesting book, nor to the details of his arguments, which I highly recommend… . [It] undermines the old accusation that religion is unhealthy and antisocial. 

Daniel Peterson

The Hibbing Daily Tribune, Hibbing MN–September 21, 2013

Stark clearly demonstrates the positive impact that religion has on American society.

Rev. Dan Erickson

The Drum Online (ABC News)–May 20, 2013

America’s Blessings is another important contribution from Rodney Stark in the study of religion. Where influential voices continue to deride, marginalize and misunderstand the impact of religion, particularly Christianity, careful research may give them reason to pause. Strikingly, Stark concludes his work with a rough but reasonable calculation of the savings to US society each year that are directly attributable to the religiousness of the nation. $2.67 trillion is a figure not to be sniffed at. Economists and pollies take note! Stark acknowledges that not only are these figures inadequate but also they are beside the point. Even if the numbers are close to right, the intangible benefits of American life provided by its religious culture are worth immeasurably more.”

Simon Smart