Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Sociologist explains how religion benefits even atheists’

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Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

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The Scientist
Provo, UT

Indeed. We atheists also benefit from the Christmas shopping sales, but that doesn't make Santa real.

Apocalypse please
Bluffdale, UT

I recently did my own study and found: religion works for some, doesn't for others, and is every shade of gray imaginable for the rest.

I'm interested in what methodologies this study used. We're only Christians studied? How about members of the FLDS church, or church of Scientology, etc?

What aspect of religion might lead to a better life? Is it a universal message found among all religions? Or maybe the pie-in-the-sky mentality?

Either way, thanks for the article Dr Peterson.

Hayden, ID

Apparently we have been fighting crime, poverty and human suffering all wrong! We can't build enough prisons, give out enough food stamps or hire enough police to protect us from a Godless society! The purpose of religion is to teach us how to behave properly, especially toward each other!

Weber State Graduate
Clearfield, UT

It's important to point out that from a sociological perspective, sociologists are less concerned with the ostensible "truthfulness" of a religious claim and more interested in how religion fits into society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements...namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions. These constituent elements do not authenticate the existence of a deity, but rather contribute to the social order of society.

What is important to a sociologist is the ability to examine religion objectively in its social and cultural context. Drawing a veiled parallel to the functional aspects of religion with the idea that this somehow makes the supernatural claims of religion legitimate is misleading. That's what this article seems to imply under the banner of "defending the faith."

orem, UT

Having a good friend who is atheist and who lives among religious people I can respect her belief. She is a good example of how to disagree with religion without weakening her beliefs by throwing stones at her neighbors.

Bountiful, UT

Great article! I would like to read the book. :0)

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

Nice job religious believers – spend 3000 years convincing people that without belief in the supernatural (or more specifically, the God of Abraham) there is no morality because people are at their core, fallen (i.e., evil).

Then when people begin to shed their credulousness, you look on in shock at their lack of ethical behavior (which is not at all the case for many atheists, but for the sake of this argument…).

You have no one to blame but yourselves for our society’s lack of virtue, such as it is.

And it would be refreshing to see an article on how atheism, or at least the presupposition that the world is what we make it and can be explained entirely through natural processes, has benefited the world for centuries.

Or would the good Dr. prefer to return to the Dark Ages (which was entirely the product of religious belief run amok)?


@ Tyler D

"You have no one to blame but yourselves for our society’s lack of virtue"

Blaming religious believers for society's lack of virtue? That is quite a stretch, perhaps you have some research you might cite?

"Or would the good Dr. prefer to return to the Dark Ages (which was entirely the product of religious belief run amok)?"

Perhaps you might want to review the research into the "Dark Ages" (most scholars use "Medieval Times"). Especially pay attention to the Visigoths brutal role in initiating the fall of Rome and the role of Religious Monasteries in keeping scholarship alive. However, there is evidence that Christianity helped weaken Rome so religion did play some role, but certainly not close to "entirely".

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY

Tyler D,

I don't think the irreligious have bought the arguments of the religious and therefore suffer the consequences noted in the study.

From a purely sociological view, religion represents a "good behavior" model that has been proven to work over the centuries (not simply Christianity). So it should be no surprise that there are significant benefits.

As to the world being what we make it? Absolutely. In my view it is "fallen" yet still beautiful and with amazing opportunities. Both the good and the bad in the world are due to the legacies of those of good and ill will.

Our duty is to be among the good. To leave the world a bit better for our passing through. First for our families, then for our friends and acquaintances, and then for our communities and the world generally.


@ DesNews moderators: How, exactly, is offering a critical analysis of a quote from the book "off topic or disruptive"?

Here is a (slightly) edited version of my previous comment.

Let's really look at the rape statistics of Sweden compared to the US.

In Sweden, a woman who has been raped is more likely to report it to the police than a woman in the US who has been raped. If a rape incident includes one night at one location with three perpetrators - that is recorded as 3 rapes in Sweden, one rape in the US. In a similar scenario, if there was one perpetrator but he forced himself on the woman three times, it would also count as 3 in Sweden and 1 in the US.

Likewise, other crimes are recorded differently between the US and Sweden - in fact, as criminologists and staticians know, due to differing definitions and collection methods, it is impossible to compare crime rates in one country to crime rates in another country.

Does the rest of the book rely on similar controversial claims?

Daniel Leifker
San Francisco, CA

I've often wondered what the world would be like if religion had never taken root. I suppose it could have evolved into a peaceful society of thoughtful agnostics, but I wouldn't bet my next paycheck on it.

Orem, UT

Professor Peterson's article ends with this: "None of these facts proves religious claims true, of course. But they certainly undermine the old accusation that religion is unhealthy and antisocial."

From their comments above, it seems either that "Weber State Graduate" and "The Scientist" don't believe that Peterson meant what he said, or that their copies of the article were missing that last paragraph.

Salt Lake City, UT

It appears that to comment on the book itself, one must first read it. That would answer some of the comments as to methodology and such.

From what Dr. Peterson said, it appears that those who at least embrace one of the Abrahamic religions and try to live the precepts have internalized a sense of obligation to God, or a higher power to borrow from AA, to live a life based upon accepted norms and in some ways subordinate personal wants, passions or wishes in order to meet the religion's tenets. In this the believer is said to be happier and enjoy some life enhancing benefits.

I feel that those comments who trumpet a secular or atheistic life style seem anxious to denounce the source of other people's happiness and contentment and attempt to replace their theism with a system where ego and personal pride hold sway and everyone should walk after the manner of his own will.

The latter does make sense if your atheism gives you an unknown number of days of mortality before ending up in the great biological compost pile called the grave.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Kralon – “That is quite a stretch, perhaps you have some research you might cite?”

Not sure how the (3000 year) hypothesis could be researched… science has a hard enough time explaining whether or not coffee is good for you.

My polemic conclusion aside, can you think of any good arguments that refute the theory?

And you’re right about the fall of Rome and the role of monasteries, but my point was given how advanced society was during the Greek democracies and the Roman Republic, there is no reason Europe should have experienced a thousand year Dark Age.

Religion’s interest during that time was self-promotion and the superstitious baggage that came along. It was only when Europe (and later our Founders) looked back to the Greek and Roman models did we begin to emerge from those dark times.


It’s not a question of “buying arguments” rather that those beliefs (no morality without God) propagated for so long became almost hard wired into western cultural DNA.

They are not easily shed just because one stops believing in an often war-like desert tribal god.

The rest was nicely said…

Salt Lake City, UT

The state with the lowest crime rates is New Hampshire, the state with the highest percentage of atheists. They seem to be doing alright.

Weber State Graduate
Clearfield, UT


It's all about the ability grasp the subliminal message and then simply connect the dots.

Why go to so much trouble at drawing attention to "how religion benefits even atheists" under the banner of "defending the faith" if not to somehow try and indirectly validate the supernatural claims of religion?

I believe most readers get it.

Here, UT

Mountanman says:
"The purpose of religion is to teach us how to behave properly, especially toward each other!"

Why don't you start behaving properly to others, especially your lgbt neighors? That would be a sign that your religion's teachings are working.

The article says that "religious people are less likely to commit crimes". Judging from just the local news, I'd have to disagree with that assessment. We have religious locals fleecing their fellow members in a constant stream of financial schemes. We have local relgious people commiting sexual crimes against the children under their care (there have been numerous cases in just the last few years). IMO, religious people are every bit as likely to commit crimes as are non-religious people.

Morality is not derived from religion, but rather from the need to work collectively for our good.

Phoenix, AZ

Perhaps an even better take on the subject would be how atheism even helps religion. Of all the developed nations the USA has the largest percentage of incarcerated citizens and over ninety eight percent are Christian products.

Chandler, AZ

I fully second Verdad's comment. Rather than interact with the point being explicitly made, some would rather speculate on internal motivations unrelated to the thesis.

Springville, UT

I haven't read Rodney Stark's book, but I would be greatly surprised if it isn't as rigorous a study as is possible in today's sociology. In contrast, a lot of comments on this forum are based on little more than the commenter's own experience and opinion. If these commenters really think that Stark's conclusions are wrong, they should put together an equally rigorous scholarly work that looks for the right conclusions.

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