Why has America been blessed in many ways in the past? At its core, the answer has to do with the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are living off of the residue of that great heritage.
As one author put it, “one of our nation’s primary advantages over many others lies in the greater strength of religion in American life.”
That author is Dr. Rodney Stark, a professor at Baylor, who is a specialist on the sociology of religion. Last week I mentioned a remarkable book he wrote that did not get the attention it deserves: America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists (2012).
Recently I read Stark’s book carefully and took copious notes. Here are some of Stark’s findings, in addition to the ones related to the reduction and prevention of crime, which I pointed out last week.
Stark observes that “America is an unusually religious nation. Nearly all Americans say they believe in God, about 80 percent believe in heaven, about 70 percent believe in hell, and half pray at least once a day (32 percent pray more than once).”
He notes that religion benefits everyone, even the non-religious, who feel the residual effect.
Those who attend church more often tend to donate much more often. For example, he writes, “religious people dominate the ranks of blood donors, to whom even some angry humanists owe their lives.”
Stark provides a bullet list of many benefits:
- “Religious Americans are far more likely to contribute even to secular charities, to volunteer their times to socially beneficial programs, and to be active in civic affairs.
- “Religious Americans enjoy superior mental health—they are happier, less neurotic, and far less likely to commit suicide.
- “Religious Americans also enjoy superior physical health, having an average life expectancy more than seven years longer than that of the irreligious. A very substantial difference remains even after the effects of ‘clean living’ are removed.
- “Religious people are more apt to marry and less likely to divorce, and they express higher degrees of satisfaction with their spouses. They also are more likely to have children.
- “Religious husbands are substantially less likely to abuse their wives or children.
- “Religious American couples enjoy their sex lives more and are far less likely to have extramarital affairs.
- “Religious students perform better on standardized achievement tests.
- “Religious Americans are far less likely to have dropped out of school, which is especially true for African Americans and Hispanics.
- “Religious Americans are more successful, obtaining better jobs and far less subject to being on unemployment or welfare; this is true not only for whites but for African Americans.
- “Although often portrayed as ignorant philistines, religious Americans are more likely to consume and sustain ‘high culture.’”
When Stark is talking about religion in America, it would appear that he is primarily talking about those in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
One area we don’t think about normally is that Christians tend to enjoy greater birth replacement rates than their secularist counterparts. That is important to society because if we don’t replace ourselves, we’ll eventually die off. This is where secular Europe and religious America can be contrasted.
Stark points out that secularists rightfully blame Christianity for upholding higher fertility rates. But that’s good because the Bible tells humanity that we should “be fruitful and multiply.”
Stark notes that the current Total Fertility Rate (TFR) needed for any nation is “about 2.05 per female — one child to replace the mother, one to replace the father, and an occasional child to offset infant mortality.”
Secular Europe is not doing well on this front. Facing what some sociologists call a “demographic winter,” they’ve thrown open the doors to immigrants — even those with values contrary to Western ones — partially to grow their lagging economies. They need people to replace those that are not procreating.
Stark says, “Europe’s lack of fertility is directly attributable to its lack of religiousness…..
In both Europe and America, fertility is highly related to church attendance.”
Stark cites Eric Kaufmann of the University of London, author of the book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (2010), and summarizes Kaufmann’s message: “only the irreligious sector of Europe’s population is declining, while the religious sector is growing.”
Stark adds, “Translated into comparisons with Western European nations, we enjoy far lower crime rates, much higher levels of charitable giving, better health, stronger marriages, and less suicide, to note only a few of our benefits from being an unusually religious nation. Quite aside from the social and personal benefits of these religious effects, they add up to many hundreds of billions of dollars a year in financial benefits.”