Over at ABC Religion and Ethics, Simon Smart of CPX has a piece on Count Your Blessings: A Religious America, where he looks at Rodney Stark’s book Americas Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. According to Stark, religion makes America better socially, economically, and even improves fertility rates among the population (apparently the religious have more sex)! Smart warns that, “No doubt Stark’s work will draw howls of protest, but he can’t be too swiftly dismissed as a religious loony, partly because his personal beliefs are at best difficult to pinpoint, and secondly because he is so well regarded in his field. He relies on robust research and reliable data, excluding studies that don’t draw on well-selected samples and relevant populations. Where there are obvious limitations to the studies he cites, he says so, and provides a compelling case against some of what passes as research in this area.”
Concerning crime rates, Smart notes Stark’s research:
Throughout this work Stark makes comparisons between America and the much more secular Western Europe. The contrast is striking in many places. His assessment of crime and pro-social behaviour for example, will raise some eyebrows. Despite the widely-held image of crime-ridden America, Stark finds that the average person in irreligious Sweden is 3.5 times more likely to be criminally assaulted than the average American and twice as likely to be a victim of theft. Assault rates are far higher in the UK, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and France than they are in the US. When it comes to burglary the stats are similar. “Attempted murder” rates are high in European countries, but Stark attributes the much higher homicide rate in America to the proliferation of guns. When American citizens, armed to the teeth, initiate a homicidal act they usually succeed, whereas in Europe they mostly fail.
Then there is the reproductive “blessings”:
A key blessing of America’s religious commitment is that unlike Western Europe, the US is not faced with a shrinking population. Fertility rates are high and it’s all because of religion, Stark says. Further, research shows that the more religious a couple are, the more stable, satisfying, and beneficial to the community their family life is likely to be. And what about the sex lives of the faithful compared to those who have shunned religion? Given the portrayal of Christianity in the media and pop culture, one might imagine that committed faith is a sure road towards repression, guilt, shame and denial of pleasure in the bedroom. Not so, says Stark. Evidently the positive view of sex in the Bible carries over into marriages. Studies into the sex lives of Americans show that conservative Protestants (both men and women) are having sex more often than any other group and conservative protestant women are the most likely to report being “extremely satisfied” both physically and emotionally with their sex lives. Might it be that limits rather than an attitude of sexual license is the pathway to fulfilment? That is a radical idea in the current climate.
An interesting counter-point to the view that religion poisons everything!