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America's Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists Kindle Edition
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Others have written lengthy summaries of his major points, so here I'll just mention a couple of problems I had with the book.
1.) In Chapter 8, Stark claims to debunk Mark Noll's famous assertion that, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Stark creates a bit of a straw man concerning Noll's claims and debunks that straw man without engaging the real substance of Noll's extensive analysis. Stark's examples have to do with passive activities. I have never seen that any merit accrues to those who read books, even literature, or to those who listen to music, even classical music. The preference for passive mental activities of a particular kind says little about a person's intellectual activity.
2.) In an astounding oversight by Stark, his proofreaders, and his editors, Stark writes in his concluding chapter that homeschooled and religious-schooled children save the government $630 million dollars each year. He gets this number by multiplying the 6.3 million children in such non-government schools times the $10,000/child annual cost of government schools. Even many government-schooled children would see the error in this calculation. The more scientifically oriented homeschooled child would see the amount is wrong by two orders of magnitude. This could be dismissed as a simple typo in a long paragraph, but then it is repeated in a separately displayed line. The more cynical among us might then begin to wonder about other numbers reported in the book.
So, why haven't you heard this before? Probably because the vast majority of academic researchers in the humanities and social sciences are nonbelievers and they are very uncomfortable with these results. Stark had to really dig for them and he even did some of the research himself.
I find it fascinating that a faith - Christianity - that is so focused on the next life and on the spiritual world can bring so much good to this life and this natural world. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The Bible contains many sound rules for living and many promises about our life here in this world. And Christ apparently spent a great deal of time healing the sick - making the world a better place. It only makes sense then that his followers would flourish and make the world a better place for others, as well.
This book should be required reading in every Adult Sunday School and every Christian high school and college in America. Certainly, young Christians will never read this in a secular school or university.
In my field of international holistic development, well researched sociological studies like that which is done by Stark are invaluable to help develop a potential framework of ideas to engage people in dialogue regarding how they can work with God to bring positive changes into their society.
I think this is useful in our own society to contribute to informed dialogue with respect to positive change. In a time when the less-than-helpful actions of central governments and political manipulation are obvious to many, being well informed as to dynamics which shape life, such as the leadership / influence of the Messiah, AND having the opportunity for respectful, patient, well-conceived dialogue together will give us a better chance for positive change than our continued frustrating reliance on the federal government to help us.
Dr. Stark's work makes a significant contribution towards a well informed populace - both because of sound research and methodology, and because he writes in a manner which is understandable.