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After a spate of atheist-authored books decrying religion, along comes the contrarian An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off with Religion than Without It.  Atheist author Bruce Sheiman reminds us of what many sociologists of religion have been proving for some years: that religion helps people live happier and healthier lives by giving them meaning and purpose; and it benefits society enormously, by establishing food closets and hospitals and rescue missions and what not. As the subtitle says, all told, humanity is better off as a result of religion.

The question, though, is whether Christianity will be better off as a result of this well-meaning book.

Christianity is indeed a religion, and a pretty good religion at that, apparently—over 2 billion people identify with it in one way or another. Still, as a religion, Christianity is very much a human enterprise. Like all religions, it tries to understand the human situation transcendentally, but as a religion, it remains a social phenomenon we can study.

The principles that have helped American evangelicals, for example, become a successful social institution are no religious secret, available only to the initiated. Our leaders look to business gurus to discover how to manage large organizations like megachurches. Our small group leaders look to psychology to discover principles that will help groups become more intimate. Our Christian educators employ the latest secular pedagogies to inform their teaching. Our worship leaders make use of large group dynamics to determine how to use music and prayer to move people into a worshipful mood and send them forth uplifted. Our pastors study persuasion and rhetoric to make their sermons pop.

Look at any successful, ...

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August 2009

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