Tag Archives: Superstition

A closer look at the journey to atheism of Nathan Pratt

I found a deconversion testimony by an atheist on Prayson Daniel’s blog, and I thought it might be useful to take a look at it.

But first, I want to recap some reasons why people think that God exists.

In addition to these arguments for theism, Christians would make be some sort of minimal facts case for the resurrection, one that leverages the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. And some sort of case for the early belief that Jesus was divine.

In addition to those positive evidences, there would be informed defenses to other questions like the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, religious pluralism, the hiddenness of God, materialist conceptions of mind, consciousness and neuroscience, the justice of eternal damnation, sovereignty and free will, the doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine of the Trinity, and so on.

I listed these out so that you can see how many of these positive arguments and defenses that he wrestles with in his deconversion testimony, which is linked below.

So here is the deconversion testimony.

And here are some revealing snippets, under headings.

Legalist upbringing

” Being baptists things were pretty legalistic growing up.”

Anti-intellectual parents

His parents tell him: “This is the bible and its truth can’t be debated. It is what it is.”

Piety rather than apologetics

“Most of my young life I was “that” religious kid. You know him. He’s awkward looking with coke bottle glasses and horrendous hair and triple hand me down clothes. I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return.”

Peer disapproval

“I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return. One time I even got jumped while fishing and once they started punching me I didn’t even fight back, “turn the other cheek” was being said in my mind over and over. I got the crap kicked out of me and several months of ridicule at school over getting such a beating.

I think the most embarrassing time for me was in 8th grade science class when one kid started calling me a “bible beater” while the teacher was out of the room. He then got the entire class to mock and laugh at me. It wasn’t fun. In fact, it sucked.”

Deconversion prior to serious study of the evidence

“I think it was around 9th grade that my apathy for religion and god really started to set it. Being honest with myself I didn’t want to be the kid that got mocked anymore.”

Ineffective church leadership

“We’d laugh at our peers that were so moved by the message told by the church leaders… Everything I was seeing my peers do could easily be chalked up to a group or mob mentality. A psychological effect of emotions.”

I agree with him about this one, the church generally does nothing to form a Christian worldview, even though they have years and years to do it. And they are quite proud of this “focus on the gospel”, even as kids drop Christianity as soon as they hear intellectual objections to it in college.

Self-focus / autonomy

“The fact that our purpose of living was the blow smoke up the skirt of a god that will damn us to hell.”

Theological determinism

“The thought that a god with a plan can’t/won’t/doesn’t listen to your prayers because if your prayer isn’t in line with his plan then it goes unheard or unanswered.”

Bible difficulties

“God set up Adam and Eve for failure in the Garden of Eden. If he really didn’t want us to “fall from grace” then the tree never would have been there. He would’ve stopped the serpent from deceiving Adam and Eve. He would’ve equipped Adam and Eve with the knowledge of deceit so they could recognize when they’re being lied to.”

God’s job is to make us happy and healthy

“God would have either have had a direct hand in creating hell or allowing satan to create it with his knowledge. God created the rules by which people go to hell. He damns billions of people there. Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Accuracate knowledge of God’s character and historical actions are less important than “being good”

“Anne Frank, a Jew, is in hell because she didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but Ted Bundy, a serial rapist and murderer, is in heaven because he accepted Jesus into his heart before dying on death row. Is that fair? Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Emotional problem of evil

His brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, and his view is that it’s God’s job to keep everyone alive and happy. So this guy is reading the story of Jesus and he is saying something like this to himself when he reads the Bible, “see, the founder of Christianity has all his needs met by God and he is happy all the time, and everyone likes him and he never, ever has anything bad happen to him that isn’t his fault”. The problem of evil is one of the most responded-to problems in Christian apologetics. He didn’t cite anyone who has responded to it.

Ignorance of how the Bible defines faith

“Faith is believing in something without evidence.”

So he doesn’t even know what the definition of faith is, according to the Biblical use of the term, where faith is trusting in something you know to be true because of the evidence, e.g. – because of the resurrection, say. That was Jesus’ model of getting people to have faith in him, but apparently you can attend church and come up with a different, postmodern notion of what the word means. A definition that is pleasing to all the people in church who are there for emotional comfort, and not for truth and knowledge. His definition of faith is more like the atheist definition of faith, like they say “I have faith in the multiverse” or “I have faith in aliens seeding the Earth with life” or “I have faith that God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting this instance of apparently gratuitous evil”. Atheists project their own irrational epistemology onto Christians.

Unfamiliarity with Christian scholarship

After I realized that my friends and church leaders had no good responses to anything I was saying I started searching for good apologist books on the internet. A good book about a good reason for belief. I can’t effectively relay my shock at turning up nothing worth the paper it was printed on.”

The purpose of life is to feel happy

“I’d heard through a friend that an old acquaintance from our youth group was now an agnostic… His reply was straight forward in that he’d realized that he’d gained nothing from trying to understand, follow and love god. Since it was bringing nothing positive to his life he left it behind. He shared that we’re all trained as kids in church that we have a god shaped hole in our hearts, but that it wasn’t true. Here he was, 11 years after leaving christianity, at the happiest and most content point of his life. He told me it was okay to doubt.”

Reads simplistic books by atheists

“That book that would ultimately be one of the most revolutionary books in my life was “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.””

This book is a caricature of the reasons why people believe in God. I searched for the names of top Christian apologists, and there were none. No William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Stephen C. Meyer, Mike Behe, etc. I took a look at the 50 arguments. They were generally re-phrasings of this “I’m stupid, so I’ll believe Christianity because it makes me happy”.

I clicked on the few that I thought might cite Christian scholars, but no Christian scholars were cited. For the chapter on “fine-tuning”, the author cited Ray Comfort. And his banana argument. In a chapter on fine-tuning. The chapter on intelligent design did not cite a single scholar, pro or con. ID was not even defined.

My conclusion

Well, I’ll leave the rest of his post to you. I did a quick search on the author’s blog for “William Lane Craig”, just to see, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “intelligent design”, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “minimal facts” and found nothing. His post on his journey to atheism is here. And let this testimony be a lesson to you parents and church leaders not to fail other Christians the way this guy’s parents and church leaders failed him. You should read the comments on his post, as well.

Pew survey: evangelical Christians least likely to believe superstitious nonsense

The Pew Research survey is here.

They are trying to see which groups believe in superstitions and new age mysticism.

Here are the parts that I found interesting:

Click for full image.

Click for full image.

Notice the numbers for Republicans vs Democrats, conservatives vs. liberals, and church-attending vs non church-attending. The least superstitious people are conservative evangelical Republicans, while the most superstitious people are Democrat liberals who don’t attend church. I think there is something to be learned from that. It’s consistent with the results of a Gallup survey that showed that evangelical Christians are the most rational people on the planet.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal article about the Gallup survey entitled “Look Who’s Irrational Now“.

Excerpt:

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity.

[…]The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

When I think of the “weird” things that evangelical Christians believe, I think of the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life and the sudden origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian. All of this is superstition to an atheist, and yet all of it is rooted in mainstream science. Not just that, but they’ve grown stronger as science has progressed. I can accept the fact that an atheist may be ignorant of the science that defeats his atheism, but that’s something that has to be remedied with more studying of the evidence, not less. If you generate a worldview by 1) your desire to dispense with moral judgment and/or 2) your desire to prefer Star Trek and Star Wars to mainstream science, then of course you are going to have an irrational worldview. I’m not saying that all atheists do this, surely someone like Peter Millican does not. But for rank-and-file Dawkins acolytes, I think this is pretty accurate, and it’s why we get the survey results that we do.

A closer look at the journey to atheism of Nathan Pratt

I found a deconversion testimony by an atheist on Prayson Daniel’s blog, and I thought it might be useful to take a look at it.

But first, I want to recap some reasons why people think that God exists.

In addition to these arguments for theism, Christians would make be some sort of minimal facts case for the resurrection, one that leverages the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. And some sort of case for the early belief that Jesus was divine.

In addition to those positive evidences, there would be informed defenses to other questions like the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, religious pluralism, the hiddenness of God, materialist conceptions of mind, consciousness and neuroscience, the justice of eternal damnation, sovereignty and free will, the doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine of the Trinity, and so on.

I listed these out so that you can see how many of these positive arguments and defenses that he wrestles with in his deconversion testimony, which is linked below.

So here is the deconversion testimony.

And here are some revealing snippets, under headings.

Legalist upbringing

” Being baptists things were pretty legalistic growing up.”

Anti-intellectual parents

His parents tell him: “This is the bible and its truth can’t be debated. It is what it is.”

Piety rather than apologetics

“Most of my young life I was “that” religious kid. You know him. He’s awkward looking with coke bottle glasses and horrendous hair and triple hand me down clothes. I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return.”

Peer disapproval

“I told random kids on the bus that I would pray for them and would be mocked in return. One time I even got jumped while fishing and once they started punching me I didn’t even fight back, “turn the other cheek” was being said in my mind over and over. I got the crap kicked out of me and several months of ridicule at school over getting such a beating.

I think the most embarrassing time for me was in 8th grade science class when one kid started calling me a “bible beater” while the teacher was out of the room. He then got the entire class to mock and laugh at me. It wasn’t fun. In fact, it sucked.”

Deconversion prior to serious study of the evidence

“I think it was around 9th grade that my apathy for religion and god really started to set it. Being honest with myself I didn’t want to be the kid that got mocked anymore.”

Ineffective church leadership

“We’d laugh at our peers that were so moved by the message told by the church leaders… Everything I was seeing my peers do could easily be chalked up to a group or mob mentality. A psychological effect of emotions.”

I agree with him about this one, the church generally does nothing to form a Christian worldview, even though they have years and years to do it. And they are quite proud of this “focus on the gospel”, even as kids drop Christianity as soon as they hear intellectual objections to it in college.

Self-focus / autonomy

“The fact that our purpose of living was the blow smoke up the skirt of a god that will damn us to hell.”

Theological determinism

“The thought that a god with a plan can’t/won’t/doesn’t listen to your prayers because if your prayer isn’t in line with his plan then it goes unheard or unanswered.”

Bible difficulties

“God set up Adam and Eve for failure in the Garden of Eden. If he really didn’t want us to “fall from grace” then the tree never would have been there. He would’ve stopped the serpent from deceiving Adam and Eve. He would’ve equipped Adam and Eve with the knowledge of deceit so they could recognize when they’re being lied to.”

God’s job is to make us happy and healthy

“God would have either have had a direct hand in creating hell or allowing satan to create it with his knowledge. God created the rules by which people go to hell. He damns billions of people there. Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Accuracate knowledge of God’s character and historical actions are less important than “being good”

“Anne Frank, a Jew, is in hell because she didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but Ted Bundy, a serial rapist and murderer, is in heaven because he accepted Jesus into his heart before dying on death row. Is that fair? Is that love? Is that moral? Is that just?”

Emotional problem of evil

His brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, and his view is that it’s God’s job to keep everyone alive and happy. So this guy is reading the story of Jesus and he is saying something like this to himself when he reads the Bible, “see, the founder of Christianity has all his needs met by God and he is happy all the time, and everyone likes him and he never, ever has anything bad happen to him that isn’t his fault”. The problem of evil is one of the most responded-to problems in Christian apologetics. He didn’t cite anyone who has responded to it.

Ignorance of how the Bible defines faith

“Faith is believing in something without evidence.”

So he doesn’t even know what the definition of faith is, according to the Biblical use of the term, where faith is trusting in something you know to be true because of the evidence, e.g. – because of the resurrection, say. That was Jesus’ model of getting people to have faith in him, but apparently you can attend church and come up with a different, postmodern notion of what the word means. A definition that is pleasing to all the people in church who are there for emotional comfort, and not for truth and knowledge. His definition of faith is more like the atheist definition of faith, like they say “I have faith in the multiverse” or “I have faith in aliens seeding the Earth with life” or “I have faith that God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting this instance of apparently gratuitous evil”. Atheists project their own irrational epistemology onto Christians.

Unfamiliarity with Christian scholarship

After I realized that my friends and church leaders had no good responses to anything I was saying I started searching for good apologist books on the internet. A good book about a good reason for belief. I can’t effectively relay my shock at turning up nothing worth the paper it was printed on.”

The purpose of life is to feel happy

“I’d heard through a friend that an old acquaintance from our youth group was now an agnostic… His reply was straight forward in that he’d realized that he’d gained nothing from trying to understand, follow and love god. Since it was bringing nothing positive to his life he left it behind. He shared that we’re all trained as kids in church that we have a god shaped hole in our hearts, but that it wasn’t true. Here he was, 11 years after leaving christianity, at the happiest and most content point of his life. He told me it was okay to doubt.”

Reads simplistic books by atheists

“That book that would ultimately be one of the most revolutionary books in my life was “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.””

This book is a caricature of the reasons why people believe in God. I searched for the names of top Christian apologists, and there were none. No William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Stephen C. Meyer, Mike Behe, etc. I took a look at the 50 arguments. They were generally re-phrasings of this “I’m stupid, so I’ll believe Christianity because it makes me happy”.

I clicked on the few that I thought might cite Christian scholars, but no Christian scholars were cited. For the chapter on “fine-tuning”, the author cited Ray Comfort. And his banana argument. In a chapter on fine-tuning. The chapter on intelligent design did not cite a single scholar, pro or con. ID was not even defined.

My conclusion

Well, I’ll leave the rest of his post to you. I did a quick search on the author’s blog for “William Lane Craig”, just to see, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “intelligent design”, and found nothing. Then I did a search for “minimal facts” and found nothing. His post on his journey to atheism is here. And let this testimony be a lesson to you parents and church leaders not to fail other Christians the way this guy’s parents and church leaders failed him. You should read the comments on his post, as well.

A popular reason why people leave Christianity: disappointment with God

Part 2 of a brilliant series by Bradley Wright. This time he explains how people leave Christianity because they expect God to meet their needs and he doesn’t.

Excerpt:

In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.

God’s perceived failure took various forms, most of which fall under the general heading of “unanswered prayers.”

One way that people felt that God had failed them happened when He did not respond to requests for help during difficult times. A young man raised in a Baptist church epitomized this feeling of failure when he wrote about God not answering his prayers about family difficulties. He wrote: “The first time I questioned the faith was when my grandmother shriveled up in front of me for 6 month’s due to cancer. I was 13 & my mother & father [were] getting a divorce. My father told me I should have been aborted. I prayed to God but nothing fails like prayers.”

So you can see here where people have this expectation that it is God’s job to give them good health. But is that anywhere in the Bible? Is it God’s job to make us healthy so that we can have a happy life, even if we are busy spending that happy life ignoring him and not knowing his character. When you ask a serious Christian what it is like to be a Christian, we will tell you that what God is about is NOT making us healthy or happy, but instead giving us time and peace to study him, to make plans to serve him, to execute those plans, and to have (sometimes unhappy) experiences that cause our sympathies to change as we feel what God feels. In short, life is about getting closer to him, and suffering and sickness is one of the tools God uses in order to get us to know him as he is and to participate in the relationship.

Likewise, a woman raised in a Methodist household described her step-father as “cruel and abusive” to her, and she could not understand why “if God loves me, why won’t he protect me instead of letting this happen to me?”

I think the reason why God allows suffering like this is to create people who take his rules about sexual morality seriously. When I was growing up I had front-row seats to the divorces of many of my friends. I remember vividly talking to children who cried to me about how they felt when their mothers invited new men into the house after the divorce. Pain and suffering like this is a reminder to us that the moral law is real, that God expects us to follow it in order to prevent harm. One of the reasons why I am chaste is because I listen to the stories of men whose girlfriends aborted their babies, the stories of women who cohabitated and then were betrayed, the stories of the children of divorces. And from this I learn that morality is real and it matters.

In a variation of this theme, some deconverts lamented God’s inactivity amidst spiritual difficulties. A man in his forties, a former elder at a charismatic church, wrote: “In my own life, no matter how much I submitted to ‘God’ and prayed in faith, ‘sin’ never seemed to leave me. Well, what’s the point of being ‘saved’ if you aren’t delivered from ‘sin’?”

This is why accurate theology matters. No serious Christian thinks that you stop sinning after you become a Christian, and no serious Christian thinks that prayer alone is a solution to sin. To stop sinning, you need to engage more than the spirit, you need to engage the mind. Most people want to spiritualize things because prayer is easier than study. But if you want to stop sinning, the best way is a combination of prayer and study. If you want to stop premarital sex, study how premarital sex affects STD infection, risk of divorce, future marital stability, oxytocin, quality of marriage, and so on. Study the risks of divorce. That’s how you stop sinning. Some people want to dumb Christianity down to the level of superstition then they complain that it doesn’t work. But Christianity is better when you learn more and work harder.

A former Southern Baptist described the various good things that God failed to give him: “God promises me a lot in the bible and he’s not come through. Ask and it shall be given. Follow me and I will bless you. I promise you life and promise abundance. Man should not be alone. I have a plan for you. Give tithe and I will reward you. All broken promises. This god lacks clarification. This god lacks faith in me. He wants my faith. I want his too.”

Do you know what I expect from God after reading the Bible? I expect what Jesus got: pain and suffering during obedience. What kind of simpleton reads the Bible and thinks that it is about getting goodies from God? That is NOWHERE in the Bible. It’s projecting Santa Claus onto God and that isn’t going to work – God has other plans for us, and those plans involve work and pain. People become Christians because they want to be like Jesus, and they understand that Jesus was not having fun. He was doing a job, and he wasn’t happy or appreciated.

Other writers took a different approach to God’s failures. They too sought God’s help, but when they did not receive it, they simply concluded that God did not exist. A former member of an Assemblies of God church explicitly linked unanswered prayers and the existence of God: “How many humble and totally selfless prayers offered up to and ignored by the imaginary skydaddy does it take for the average person to finally throw in the towel and say [God doesn’t exist]!!!!” His answer: “Too damn many.”

It’s so strange to me that people think that the best way to see God interfere is to pray. The way I see God working in my life is when I go home and listen to some debate about the problem of evil, and then the next day some atheist asks me out to lunch to talk about why God allows evil. Maybe instead of doing easy things, we should actually invest in our relationship with God and then see if he responds by giving us work to do. Maybe a relationship with God is about serving him, and the joy is about seeing him reward those efforts by working with us and through us. Maybe God has more for us than just entertainment.

Still others sought a tangible sign of God’s presence. A former Pentecostal exclaimed: “There were many nights while in bed I would ask God to show me the truth, or give me some type of sign to show that he or she existed. These prayers would never be answered. So I would just go on with my life having doubts.” Likewise, a former Baptist missionary wrote: “I’ve begged God to show himself to me and put an end to my inner torture. So far it hasn’t happened and the only thing I know for sure is that I have unanswered questions.”

I think this paragraph is interesting, since I consider things like church, praying and singing hymns to be less practical when compared with practical and difficult things like chastity, apologetics, charity, studying hard things, getting a good job, committing to caring for others who have special needs, etc. If you want to feel the presence of God, then do the right thing and take the punishment for doing it. That’s what Christianity is really about.

The example of Dan Barker

I’ve actually written about this before in the context of Dan Barker, a charismatic fundamentalist praise hymn singer and writer who expected God to validate all of his irresponsible ministry decisions. Eventually, he fell away from the church because he had this ludicrous Santa Claus caricature of God that didn’t match reality. Dan Barker is the complete opposite of everything I consider a manly Christian to be. He is the polar opposite of what I recommend to men when I recommend that they study math, science, engineering and technology, avoid music, singing and dancing, and prefer apologetics and conservative politics over speaking in tongues and apocalyptic fiction. This man, when he was a “Christian”, was the complete opposite of the WK Christian man model. Men should be practical.

I think that Christians should protect themselves from the Dan Barker outcome by being aware of how emotional experiences and praise hymns warp your view of God. God is a person, and he has a goal for you – to know him. To achieve that goal, it may not be effective to just give you everything you want. It may be the case that God has to allow you to experience some suffering, to form your character and to bring your goals in line with his character. Children have to grow up, and shielding them from pain and responsibility doesn’t allow them to grow up.

Sociologist Rodney Stark discusses whether religion is good for society

Mysterious Chris S. posted this interview with Baylor University sociologist / historian Rodney Stark.

About Rodney Stark:

Rodney Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he joined the faculty of Baylor University. He has published 30 books and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide, and city life in ancient Rome. However, the greater part of his work has been on religion. He is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. He also has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Many of his books and articles have been translated and published in foreign languages, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Education:

  • B.A. University of Denver, 1959, Journalism.
  • M.A. University of California, Berkeley, 1965, Sociology.
  • Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1971, Sociology.

Excerpt:

Q: After examining hundreds of relevant studies, what’s the biggest misconception you’ve found about the typical religious believer?

Rodney Stark: Even some leading evangelical scholars take it for granted that religious Americans are lacking in appreciation for “high culture,” for music, art, literature, and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more often Americans attend religious services, the more likely they are to read newspapers, poetry, novels, and to admire writers. The same applies to liking classical music, to attending symphony concerts, operas, and stage plays, and to dislike rock ‘n roll.

Q: Some recent books, like Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, suggest that “religion poisons everything.” But your book indicates that religious belief offers society many tangible benefits. What are some of these benefits?

Rodney Stark: Religious Americans are more law abiding, have superior mental and physical health, are far more generous vis-à-vis charities, have much better family life, are more successful, and religious couples even have more satisfactory sex lives!

Q: In the book’s Conclusion you look at religion’s effect on many areas of society—crime, schooling, health, employment, welfare—and you determine that, by a conservative estimate, religion saves America over $2.6 trillion each year. What are some of the biggest contributors to this savings?

Rodney Stark: The biggest by far has to do with the criminal justice system. If all Americans committed crimes at the same level as those who do not attend religious services, the costs of the criminal justice system would about double to, perhaps, $2 trillion annually. Second is health costs. The more often people attend religious services, the healthier they are. However, the net savings involved is reduced somewhat by the fact that religious Americans live, on average, seven years longer than those who never attend religious services.

Previously, I noted how people who attend church or synagogue have much better marriage stability than atheists.

Let’s just review that with some research done by W. Bradford Wilcox:

Married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services, according to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia.

Using three nationally representative surveys – the General Social Survey (GSS), the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) – Wilcox found that married church-going Americans across denominational and racial classifications were more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than their non-religious counterparts.

Couples who attended church regularly were also less likely to divorce than couples who seldom attended church services, Wilcox found.

“Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together,” Wilcox told Cybercast News Service. “But when they do, they are significantly happier in their marriages, and they are much less likely to divorce, compared to couples who do not attend church. I would say that church attendance is a beneficial component of marriage when it is done together.”

Wilcox explained that regular church attendance offers certain positive benefits to a married couple: “Churches supply moral norms like sexual fidelity and forgiveness, family-friendly social networks that lend support to couples facing the ordinary joys and challenges of married life, and a faith that helps couples make sense of the difficulties in their lives-from unemployment to illness-that can harm their marriages.”

“So, in a word, the couple that prays together stays together,” said Wilcox.

[…]”Men and women who hold a religious faith and put that faith into practice by attending church on a regular basis do look different in the marital realm,” Wilcox said.

“At least in the marriage arena, faith alone doesn’t work. You’ve got to combine faith and works to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. You need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith,” he added.

This Wall Street Journal article from a while back, entitled “Look Who’s Irrational Now” argues that atheists are less skeptical than believers.

Excerpt:

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

[…]Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.

And naturally, studies show that religious people are both more generous than their secular counterparts.