They were discussing Stark’s newest book entitled America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. Dr. Stark is a Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, and his analysis of polls and data shows that Americans are more religious now than ever, despite the avalanche of news to the contrary from the secular media. By “religious”, Stark is referring to those individuals who regularly attend a religious service—Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other.
Stark finds that most Americans believe in God, and that 70% belong to a local parish. (An odd fact to note here is that during the American Revolution the figure was only 17%) The number of professed atheists is 4% and that number has remained steady since 1944 when the first polls started. However, the media and educators would lead you to believe that percentage is soaring because many of them are irreligious.
The reason the media touts that religions are declining is that they are perverting the data. While more and more people are checking “non-affiliated” in the religious questionnaires, this assessment simply means they do not participate in the traditional churches—Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. This data does not indicate that these respondents are all atheist. Of the 20% who respond “non-affiliated” Professor Stark says, “Most say they believe in God and pray regularly.”
To date, Christianity remains the predominant religion in the world. While it has declined significantly in past decades both in the US and Western Europe, Christianity is experiencing a surge in growth worldwide. Its growth Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America has been phenomenal. It is important to note that Islam is not growing nearly as fast worldwide and the Muslim birthrate in Europe is declining significantly due to modernization.
The Benefits of Religion
Professor Stark’s research reflects that religious people live 7 years longer than irreligious people. Religious people are happier, have more stable marriages, more children, better mental health, make more money, have happier sex lives, and are better educated. They read more books, are more charitable, commit less crimes, are more civic minded, and their children do better and get into less trouble in school, because they are better behaved. Overall, the US has a much lower crime rate than Western Europe, with half as many burglaries and other crimes, because of the more religious culture.
The benefits of living a religious life benefits everyone in society—even atheists. Living in a religious culture where your home is not likely to being burglarized is a good thing for you and your family whether you believe in God, or “The Force” or random chance.
In debunking the myth that religious people are merely superstitious, Professor Stark finds that religious people rank lowest among believers in Bigfoot, psychics, and astrology, etc. He says if you want to find believers in those things you’ll find them in the faculty lounge.
This question still remains: if we are a more religious nation, why has the bottom dropped out of our culture?
Stark’s research finds that this cultural shift is because of the powerful influence of the often irreligious in the media and academia. The standards for educators fell greatly in the post war era when millions of baby boomers clamored for college and there was a shortage of teachers and professors. Standards for instructors were lowered—not requiring the classically trained Profs of yore.
Hope for Humanity
One final point that Stark made that brightened my whole outlook on this subject is that while Europe is experiencing a demographic winter and US birthrates are declining, religious families are certainly larger than secular families. The data indicates that in a century, or a century and a half or so, the European populations will replenish, and they will be from the religious families, as the secularists die off. Professor Stark refers to these demographics as a “religious revival based on fertility.”
Taking all aspects of this topic into consideration, even with the encouraging message of Professor Stark’s research, we still have our work to do. Perhaps, if we focus on spreading the Gospel more fervently, we can convert a few of the irreligious before they return Home.
© 2013 Jamey Brown. All rights reserved.