What You Don’t Know About Religion (But Should) by Ryan T. Cragun
Published March 15th 2013 by Pitchstone Publishing
Buy this book at: Book Depository / Amazon / B&N
What is a religion? Why are people religious? Are religious people more educated than nonreligious people? Are religious people more moral, more humble, or happier? Are religious people more or less prejudiced than nonreligious people? Is religion good for your health? Are people becoming more or less religious? Studying religion as a social phenomenon, Ryan T. Cragun follows the scientific data to provide answers to these and other questions. At times irreverent, but always engaging and illuminating, What You Don’t Know About Religion (but Should) is for all those who have ever wondered whether religion helps or hurts society—or questioned what the future holds for religion.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
There are really only a few things you need to know about this book:
“I could have approached this book that way (highly scientific and detailed), But had I done that my audience would have dropped considerable. So I did simplify things.”
No, I swear to God that particular misspelling actually is in the book. But just remember, this book was written for dummies, that will be important later.
“Our new world needs tolerance.”
“When I was religious, I was very arrogant.”
“If you’re on the fundamentalist bandwagon, it’s time to get off……We nonreligious will inhereit the earth, but we won’t share it with fundamentalists.”
“What I hope to have done with this book, however, is undermine and destroy the appeal of religious fundamentalism.”
“To my mind the scientific research suggested to me a logical path – to reject religion. You need not do that. You could choose the best religious alternative to that: liberal religion. I can respect that choice.”
“After people read this book, they should view religious fundamentalists with sympathy and a bit of scorn.”
“Religious fundamentalists are detriments to society and they should be treated as such. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we round them up and lock them away – that would be awful and is unethical. I’m suggesting that you should think about religious fundamentalists as though they are misogynistic, racist, homophobic Luddites, because they are.”
“…but you can pity then, and frankly, I think it is perfectly fine to tell then that you do. Tell them that you feel sorry for their choice to oppose the qualities of a progressive, modernized, advanced, democratic society. It’s time that religious fundamentalists were considered socially deviant.”
So, am I the only disturbed by these quotes? Tolerance huh? Yes, this is a very tolerant book! It will tell you for 250 pages that the highly religious are dumber, less well off, less educated, more prejudiced, more violent, misogynistic, homophobic, hypocritical, arrogant racists. I wanted to give this book a fair shot, I really did. The author is a former Mormon, and so am I. I was a fourth generation Mormon, born into the faith and I stayed long past the time I started to have doubts. I finally left the religion and frankly it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I wanted to agree with this author! And I couldn’t! Because I have never read a more prejudiced and hateful book by a more arrogant author in all my life.
This book was purported to be about the social science of how and why people are religious, and whether or not religion is really such a benefit to people’s lives as it claims to be. This intrigued me. But what I got was “look at this graph, this is what that graph tells us. now look at this graph, this is what it tells us. shit, religious people suck!” And rinse and repeat for 200 something pages. I learned nothing about religion and everything I ever needed to know about the author’s character.
Now, by this point the author will probably tell you one of two things about me (and he admits it in his book). If I don’t agree with his points then:
A. I am a religious fundamentalist who just is socially deviant and can’t understand simple logic, even though the book was written for dummies. Everyone should point and laugh at the idiot with a God.
B. I didn’t read the book all the way through and so therefore I failed to grasp it.
Let’s address this. First, I did read this pile of garbage until the very last sentence. And I learned nothing and have thoroughly wasted my time. Also I am one of the people who would be classed as “non religious” in his book. I am now a Pagan and have been since a few years after I left the Mormon church. I have faith in many things and I practice my faith in private, but I do not participate in a religion with others.
Save yourself the time and find an actual book about the science of religion, because this one is just thinly veiled hateful spew about religious people and religion in general. Oh, who am I kidding, there is no veil!
6 thoughts on “What You Don’t Know About Religion (But Should) by Ryan T. Cragun”
I saw your review of my book on Goodreads. I’m not exactly sure I understand what it is you disliked about the book. The goal of the book was to present data on the characteristics of: religious fundamentalists, religious moderates, and religious liberals and the nonreligious (in the US; outside the US I use different categories, of course). I then note at the end of the book that I have a particular bias because I value things like: education, tolerance, diversity, science, having kids who think for themselves, etc. and the data seem to indicate that liberally religious and nonreligious people are the most likely to exhibit those characteristics. Yet, somehow you understood that to be “hateful spew”? Do you, personally, not value those things?
I have a question for you. You wrote, “It will tell you for 250 pages that the highly religious are dumber, less well off, less educated, more prejudiced, more violent, misogynistic, homophobic, hypocritical, arrogant racists.” Is everything in that sentence true based on the best scientific data we have? If so, what should we think about highly religious people? And if that is true, how is that hate speech?
Calling my book hate speech is like calling someone who shows that women make less money than men a chauvinist.
Also, keep in mind that I don’t hate religious people. I hate it when those people oppose things like science funding and sex education. But I don’t hate the people.
I genuinely want to write good books. So, if you can tell me how I could improve the book, I’ll take that into consideration.
I welcome your feedback.
Ryan T. Cragun
I can’t argue that the figures seem to present everything that you say. However, it is not presented in any kind of constructive or scientific way. I understand that everyone has a bias, and if this book was a memoir then the heavy handed bias would be alright, but not as a book that presents itself as a factual one about religion. Personal bias has no place in such a book.
I was disturbed by your personal commentary about the data rather than the data itself. For example, calling religious fundamentalists a detriment to society. Without religious fundamentalists we would all still be in England and under the rule of a King or Queen. Without religious fundamentalists we would not have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Also your comments encouraging readers to tell religious fundamentalists how much you pity them for being so ignorant is highly arrogant and off putting.
Or, for example, this little gem, “We nonreligious will inherit the earth, but we won’t share it with fundamentalists.” Since the book touts that you are a tolerant individual, I find this comment to be laughably hypocritical. Religion has always been a part of the human experience, I doubt that will be changing anytime in the foreseeable future. This comment was a bully tactic and rather fascist if I’m being entirely honest.
In short, my problem with this book was not the facts nor the figures but with your personal views and commentary. That is what offended me. And the fact that you state in the book that if I don’t agree with you then I must not have read it thoroughly or I am one of those simple minded and ignorant religious fundamentalists. Except that I’m not. You and I are much alike. I was born a 4th generation Mormon. I stayed in the faith for years despite having huge problems with the faith. When I finally left I was cut off by my family for quite a long time. So I have my own problems with the institution of religious fundamentalism. However, I judge people on a case by case basis as a person. While the data is fine to make sweeping generalizations with, to make it personal with your own personal bias is being hateful toward the individuals and not the religion itself.
I think I was pretty constructive. I showed that some people are more likely to exhibit negative characteristics than are others and I suggested they change. That is the very definition of constructive feedback.
I’m pretty sure I was also scientific. I included all of my references at the back of the book and noted which references belonged with which statements in the appendix. And I included data to back up every factual assertion I made. That’s pretty much the definition of science.
So, I was both constructive and scientific.
You wrote, “without religious fundamentalists we would all still be in England.” Fundamentalism didn’t come into existence in the sense meant in my book and by most sociologists until the early 20th century. You probably are thinking of Puritans, who were kind of like fundamentalists, but also different in important ways (they are what we would call a sectarian movement).
You also wrote, “Without religious fundamentalists we would not have freedom of religion or freedom of speech.” Care to back that up? Religious fundamentalists would prefer that we have neither of those – either freedom of speech or religion. Go ahead and try to proselytize in Afghanistan or encourage someone to become a pagan in Indonesia and see what happens to you?
I do pity people who are ignorant. I don’t think that’s arrogant. I think that’s sympathetic. I don’t blame them for being ignorant. I literally feel sorry for them. How is feeling sorry for someone who doesn’t know that there wasn’t an ark and that donkey’s don’t actually talk make me arrogant?
I’m pretty confident I never stated in the book that, “if you don’t agree with me then you must not have read it thoroughly or that you are one of those simple minded and ignorant religious fundamentalists.” In fact, I never once said anything about what people are if they don’t agree with me. I DID write that you don’t have to agree with me. I also suggested that it is perfectly fine to be religious, but I’d prefer that you not be a religious fundamentalist.
You also call me hypocritical for saying I don’t want to share the earth with fundamentalists. Yet, you fail to realize that fundamentalists would prefer that I be put to death. I can’t very well show a lot of tolerance for people who want me to not exist, can I? Or is it perfectly fine in your view to be tolerant of those who want to kill you? (Note, I never said or even suggested anything along the lines of killing fundamentalists; I said we should pity them and feel sorry for them and tell them that we do. Do you see the difference? They want to kill me; I feel pity for them. Which of us is intolerant?)
I never once engaged in anything like fascism. Frankly, I don’t think you know what fascism is (seriously, look it up). I didn’t advocate “authoritarian nationalism” or any particular economic or political system, which is what fascism is. I did mention authoritarianism, but only from a psychological characteristic perspective and to discourage it. So, if I insinuated anything about fascism it would have been that I think fascism is bad.
Yes, I do inject my opinion in the book. But I also tell you precisely what the basis for my opinion is. As I mentioned in my previous comment, I am a progressive and a humanist and value those things. The last chapter of the book admits as much. But the rest of the book is pretty clearly about the data. In fact, you criticized me in your review for having lots of graphs and summarizing those graphs. So, it seems like you’re not quite certain whether I gave too much data or too many opinions.
Again, I’m open to critical feedback. In fact, I have received a number of specific items of feedback from people who have read the book and I’m keeping it all in a file for when I revise the book for a second edition. So, if you have something specific you think I should change, please let me know.
At this point Ryan, you seem to be coming off as intentionally obtuse. I think you are not honestly trying to understand but to look for a soapbox based on what you believe I said. But, since this is my playground, let’s play.
1. “I showed that some people are more likely to exhibit negative characteristics than are others and I suggested they change.” – Who died and made you the Great Decider who can “suggest” to people that they change? That doesn’t sound arrogant to you?
2. “You probably are thinking of Puritans” – Yes I was, and since you said yourself that they were similar to fundamentalists, how was this an inaccurate comment? By today’s standards Puritans were the fundamentalists of their day.
3. “Care to back that up? Religious fundamentalists would prefer that we have neither of those – either freedom of speech or religion. ” – I base that on the fact that every single one of the founding fathers of this country was a devout Christian, who by today’s standards would be considered fundamentalists. And I have never once heard a fundamentalist say that I can’t say what I want or believe what I want, but they do believe I will go to hell for it so more power to them. Since their hell has no power over me, then I don’t see the point in lingering over it.
4. “Yet, you fail to realize that fundamentalists would prefer that I be put to death.” – Are we talking about Christian religious fundamentalists or the Taliban now? Because frankly those are very different things and comparing the two is not fair or factually accurate. When I see Christians stoning people in the middle of Main street for being outside without a male escort then I might agree with the comparison that all types of religious fundamentalism are the same. And who exactly is saying you should be put to death? I think pretty much every religion on the planet believes I am going to hell, maybe only the Muslim extremists would like me to be killed for it.
5. “I never once engaged in anything like fascism. Frankly, I don’t think you know what fascism is (seriously, look it up).” – How are things from up there on your ever so high ivory horse? For your enjoyment, the definition of fascism:
a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government
So, by saying that nonreligious will run the world, they would then be the rulers…not sharing with the fundamentalists would be not allowing people to disagree with the rulers. So actually, it is a perfect analogy.
6. “In fact, I never once said anything about what people are if they don’t agree with me. I DID write that you don’t have to agree with me.” – Now now, maybe you need to read that last chapter again. Because it does say that if, after reading the book, I didn’t agree then you believe there are only two possible reasons for that. Is that or is that not accurate? Unless you took that out in a later copy, but I definitely read it in mine. Unless you think I’m a liar. But then, that would be a complete failure of logic since I have nothing to gain by lying.
7. “In fact, you criticized me in your review for having lots of graphs and summarizing those graphs. So, it seems like you’re not quite certain whether I gave too much data or too many opinion” – You might want to brush up on your reading comprehension skills. What I criticized was that your book showed a graph…gave about 2 paragraphs of interpretation of the graph, followed by two pages of your personal reasons why you believe religion is bad. That was the criticism, try and follow me on this one please…it will make this infinitely easier.
8. “So, if you have something specific you think I should change, please let me know.” I believe I have been very clear, both on my review and in these comments, about why I believe the book is flawed. You cannot tout this as a scientific tome while also coloring every page with your personal hatred for religion. It’s a major fail.
Now, I am being very tolerant with you and allowing you to have your freedom of speech to address me in a very aggressive and attacking way….and with no lacking of looking down at the little people through your monocle with your pipe and smoking jacket. But if you have nothing interesting to add then please understand that I am not changing my opinion, I am not revising my review, I am not here to help you become a better writer. I am here to present my opinion of your work, which I did. If you don’t like it then as a very wise man once said, “Get off my lawn you pesky kids!”
1) You said, “However, it is not presented in any kind of constructive or scientific way.” I illustrated how I was being constructive. And then you call me arrogant and “the Great Decider”. So, basically, based on your perspective, I can’t be constructive or I’m arrogant. Yet, you criticize me for not being constructive. Hmmm…. Seems like a Catch-22.
2) It is an inaccurate comment for many reasons. First, just because they are similar doesn’t mean they are the same. Puritans were a movement within the Church of England. But they were also advocates of personal Biblical interpretation and were not strict literalists or necessarily black and white thinkers, which are the key criteria for a group/individual to be considered a fundamentalist. What’s more, Puritans didn’t settle the US, which goes back to your original assertion, that without fundamentalists we’d “all still be in England and under the rule of a King or Queen.” There were many groups migrating to what would become the US; just one of those was Puritans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_history_of_the_United_States). If the Puritans hadn’t come, it would not have made a difference. Ergo, your original assertion that we’d “all still be in England and under the rule of a King or Queen” is simply not accurate.
3) Once again, your information is inaccurate. Many of the founding fathers were Christian-ish. But to call them “devout Christians” is not really accurate. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was a deist who rejected all of the supernaturalism of the New Testament and even re-wrote the New Testament focusing on the positive morality of Jesus but rejecting all the supernaturalism. And Jefferson was not the least religious; others were also very critical of religion, including James Madison and Benjamin Franklin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_madison#Religion). In fact, very few of the founding fathers, if any, would be considered fundamentalists by today’s standards. If you want to claim that, I’d appreciate citations, since everything I’ve read about them contradicts it. So, again, your statement is simply not accurate.
As far as whether fundamentalists would restrict what you can say or do (you said, “I have never once heard a fundamentalist say that I can’t say what I want or believe what I want”)… How many examples do you want? Here’s a nice one where a Democratic congress woman from Chicago says children shouldn’t even know about atheism: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2008/04/04/its-dangerous-for-children-to-know-atheism-exists-says-illinois-state-legislator/. Or you could read this book about Christian Dominionism (http://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Coming-Rise-Christian-Nationalism/dp/B004R96UN6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390307687&sr=8-1&keywords=kingdom+coming+the+rise+of+christian+nationalism) or read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_Theology.
4) Here, you kind of change the whole point. I said fundamentalists woud like to put me to death, and you argue that is only true of Muslim fundamentalists, not Christian fundamentalists. That is basically an admission that, from your perspective, at least some fundamentalists want to put me to death. But even Christian fundamentalists would like to. Ever heard of Scott Roeder? Or George Tiller? Or Tom Coburn? Scott Roeder was a Christian fundamentalist who shot and killed George Tiller for performing abortions. He thought anyone who performed abortions should be killed and would likely extend that to anyone who believes women should have the right to choose (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_George_Tiller). Tom Coburn is a soon to be retiring senator who also wants the death penalty for anyone who performs abortions (though, in his case, he wouldn’t extend that to those who support abortion rights). And then there was this fun statement by George H. W. Bush, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” (http://www.robsherman.com/advocacy/060401a.htm) He isn’t advocating death, but doesn’t think I should be regarded as a citizen. So, on this point, you admit that Muslim fundamentalists want to kill atheists, but seem to be unaware of the serious prejudice and discrimination those who are not fundamentalists face here in the US at the hands of fundamentalist Christians. Here’s a nice wikipedia page for you to read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence. My point: fundamentalists are scarier than you think. Another book that will drive this home: http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Mind-God-Religious-Comparative/dp/0520240111/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390308255&sr=8-1&keywords=mark+jurgensmeyer
5) Your ad hominem attacks are annoying. Why do you continue to insist that I’m arrogant when I simply note that you are factually incorrect? Your definition of fascism is not fascism; it’s a description of a dictatorship. Fascism is authoritarian nationalism, not a dictatorship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism. It seems to me that you just don’t like it when someone tells you that you are wrong. I actually like it when someone says I am wrong and then backs it up, because it means I get to learn something new.
6) I re-read my last chapter and, not surprisingly, you are wrong. I never said anything like you are claiming, “Now now, maybe you need to read that last chapter again. Because it does say that if, after reading the book, I didn’t agree then you believe there are only two possible reasons for that.”
The closest I come to saying anything like that is this paragraph, “I’ve made it clear what this information led me to do: I’m no longer religious. In my mind, the scientific research suggests to me a logical path—to reject religion. You need not do that. You could choose the best religious alternative to that: liberal religion. I can respect that choice; liberal religion has a fair amount to offer to those who feel a need to believe and belong.”
That’s not even remotely close to what you are suggesting. Perhaps you need to re-read that chapter, since what you are claiming I said isn’t what I said.
7) Here’s what you wrote, “But what I got was “look at this graph, this is what that graph tells us. now look at this graph, this is what it tells us. shit, religious people suck!” And rinse and repeat for 200 something pages.”
8) I don’t hate religion. In fact, the major motivating factor for me to write this book was to distance myself from New Atheists who do hate religion. I specifically argue that liberal religion is the best way to be religious (as the quote above indicates). I don’t like religious fundamentalism, but what my book gives is a nuanced understanding of religion. I specifically encourage people who want to be religious to be religious liberals. Once again, you’ve completely misinterpreted the whole point of the book.
I don’t want you to change your review. Please, leave it as is. All I’d ask is that you allow my comments to stay on here as well.
I weary of you Ryan, I’m going to be honest. You come on MY blog under the guise of asking for constructive criticism and it has now devolved into attacking me and calling me a liar in my own space. I call you arrogant because that is my perception of you based on your book and your comments here.
While you may not believe it, I am extremely well read and know what I’m talking about and frankly I don’t need to get into an argument about my intelligence with an author who attacks reviewers who didn’t like his “masterpiece.” As for the founding fathers, yes I realize that claiming they were deists or humanists is popular in the progressive sector to prove the progressive theories on the world are correct but it simply is revisionist history. Reading their actual writings from the personal to the business tells an entirely different story. And, unlike most (including you I suspect) I have actually read them. But, there is none so blind as he who will not see.
I wonder how many other people you’ve attacked on their own blog. Or perhaps even on Goodreads. Perhaps it’s best if you stick to your anti-religious rants on Twitter where people have less space to disagree with you.
And just a friendly tip, in case you aren’t aware of how authors who attack their reviewers are perceived…well, I recommend you Google it before launching any other attacks. It isn’t pretty. I don’t believe in censoring so I’ll leave your comments here for the world to see, unfortunately I suspect they show you in a rather negative light. Reply or not, I don’t really care, but I no longer have any inclination to respond and if you take to spamming comments here to entice me into engaging with you…well those I will delete.