Against the classic promises of evangelists stands sociologist of religion Ryan T. Cragun’s new book, a work that systematically examines, and dismantles, the notion that religious folks are either better, or happier, people than their skeptical neighbors.

Cragun’s chapters employ both data and anecdotes to show that the ways we’re taught to think about religious and nonreligious people are reliant upon polarizing myths about both. As latter portions of the book illustrate, little daylight actually exists between believers and nonbelievers when it comes to values, including moral discernment, commission of crimes, charitable giving, and personal happiness. All are areas in which the religious purport greater success, yet Cragun shows that particular religious allegiances neither prevent people from doing bad things nor guarantee that they’ll do outwardly beneficial ones. Indeed, when it comes to benevolent acts toward others—as with charitable giving—nonbelievers may even claim a slight edge.

Coupled with the book’s early chapters, which paint a dismal picture for the religious in areas ranging from achievement to choice, Cragun’s book makes convincing arguments against regarding religion as either innately beneficial or benign. As he shows, traditionally religious people tend to be less educated, to marry earlier, to make less money, and to promote notions anathema to progressive societies and social well-being, from misogyny to homophobia. Since, from Cragun’s perspective, atheism is humanity’s natural inclination, and belief is something which must be inculcated, the religious are encouraged either to see that dogmatism is detrimental and liberalize, or to—as Cragun did—abandon religious allegiances altogether. Read more

I really enjoyed this book. I'm not a sociologist - far from it, but learned a lot from the book. The book compares a lot of data of how religious fundamentalists, religious moderates, religious liberals, and the nonreligious view the world, particularly on progressive issues - gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality, and so forth. Dr. Cragun goes into detail and shares humorous anecdotes to identify many of the fallacies that are common within religious fundamentalism. Having been raised as a fundamentalist mormon, but now a "liberal / nonliteral mormon" on my journey (if that can exist) I identify with the author's point of view in terms of how harmful (or at least unhelpful) a fundamentalist view of the world can be. I agree with the author's conclusions that as the world moves towards being more liberal in a religious sense, or moves to being nonreligious, that barriers will come down and we will embrace our common humanity and current challenges, rather than focus on our differences.Read more