Does religion make life better for atheists?

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Atheist bus campaign launch

Zoe Margolis viz Flickr

Atheist bus campaign launch featuring campaign creator Ariane Sherine, and Richard Dawkins


Does religion benefit society, even those who aren’t religious?  Sociologist Rodney Stark concludes that religion benefits people who are religious and even those who have nothing to do with religion.

Atheist bus campaign launch

Atheist bus campaign launch featuring campaign creator Ariane Sherine, and Richard Dawkins

Host Tony Gill interviews Stark about his book, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. Religion, says Stark, promotes “pro-social behavior,” such as volunteering, employment, and political participation. Religion can also bring about “positive externalities” such as lower crime rates and increased fertility rates.


Corner of Church & State blog is partnering with Research on Religion by bringing you one of its podcasts. Research on Religion is a weekly conversation designed to facilitate a jargon-free discussion of major topics within the social scientific study of religion. They are a unique way to not only learn about religion but also about those who study religion. Each podcast is hosted by Tony Gill, a professor of political science at the University of Washington and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (the podcast is supported by Baylor’s ISR).  This week’s podcast is part of the Research on Religion’s “Redemption Church Series.” In this installment, Pastor Matt Boswell talks about his blog post on “Ten Things Pastors Don’t Want to Reveal.”

  • No doubt religion has historically been the most effective means to encourage groups to act in concert; very likely that is the source of its evolutionary advantage. But that’s a neutral – the action can be good or wicked, very much depending on one’s point of view. Gathering your clan or tribe to expand one’s territory at the expense of neighbors may have been facilitated by doing it for one’s ancestors or gods, or even for the “one true God”; but the neighbors may have a different story to tell.

  • The Great God Pan

    Religion can and does encourage both “pro-social” and antisocial behavior. It often tends to encourage the former towards members of a particular religion or sect/denomination, and the latter towards those pesky outsiders. Certain religions also passively encourage antisocial behavior by teaching that violations of another person’s rights may be supernaturally forgiven by a disinterested and intangible third party whose existence we do not all agree on.

    I’m sure Rodney Stark has data that back up his claims. But I also know for a fact that other researchers have found that secular nations (such as the Nordic countries) have lower rates of social maladies than developed countries that are highly religious (such as the US), and that the more religious US states also have more social dysfunction than states with lower rates of church attendance. Is it better to live in a state where more people volunteer at soup kitchens, or one where there is less poverty to begin with?

    Has Mr. Stark compared his numbers to the other numbers out there and determined that the positive effects of religion objectively outweigh the negative?

  • Depends, if it is not shove it down your throat, but shared by example and offered, shared lovingly, open heartedly, it can be. Depends how it is shared.

  • Edward Wilcock

    The one and only question that is not answered with sanity, is, why does the
    ‘good god’ give us an option to bad things as has and is occuring worldwide.
    To say it is ‘god’s will’ is falacial and unacceptable by Atheists. To hell with
    imagination and symbolism. Absorb the FACTS of life. Ed\ward Wilcock (86)

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    There is a youTube video of an interview with Clayton Christensen, a leading professor at harvard Business School, who relates that a visiting scholar from China was a Marxist economist. He asked the visitor what was the most significant thing he had learned during his year at harvard, and the reply was that Democracy and Capitalism work because of the commitment the vast majority of people in America have to moral behavior founded on their religious beliefs. Essentially, the self-control engendered by religion for most Americans constrains and moderates the worst effects of our freedom, and our belief in duties we owe to God leads us to act in the larger interests of our neighbors.

    There is no doubt that many people who regard themselves as atheists or agnostics are very moral and kind and have high integrity. But there is nothing in their lack of religious belief that causes them to be unselfish rather than selfish. It is rational for an atheist to decide that, if he can get away with an action that is harmful to society but highly benefits himself and his friends, to go ahead and not worry about the action. There are philosophies that do not entail belief in a deity but encourage self-sacrifice and kindness to others, but nothing about atheism encourages an individual to make the effort to investigate, let alone live, such a philosophy. Nor do I see any movement among atheists to encourage atheists to become paragons of non-religious unselfish virtue.

  • religion makes your life better because you are in more community and have more to do in your daily life .