By Rodney Stark
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Extra info for Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion
Rather, let us recognize that the ability of humans to regard the survival of a child as more rewarding than their own survival is a credit to the human spirit and to our capacity to love. To call that altruism and place it in opposition to rationality is to reduce noble behavior to crazy, irrational action. In fact, the “selﬁsh” premise of rationality is humanistic in the fullest sense. It acknowledges our capacity to ﬁnd rewards in our dreams, hopes, loves, and ideals. It is all the more amazing that social scientists have refused to extend the rationality axiom to religion in light of the fact that religious teachers have always stressed maximizing behavior as the justiﬁcation for faith—that belief is the most rewarding (and hence most reasonable) option.
We know perfectly well that whether one is a Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian cannot be explained solely by reference to the fact that one is a rational actor. However, that is precisely why we begin our theorizing with an actor free of all such constraints: we want to explain how norms arise, how they constrain behavior, how culture is discovered and accumulated (as the senior author attempted to do in extended, deductive form in Stark and Bainbridge  ). These matters can only be theorized about if one starts with an actor not already equipped in these regards—an actor in a vacuum (Coleman , –).
Whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrational assumption has dominated the ﬁeld. As noted in the introduction, the notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild religiousness to pass the test of rationality—as in Gordon W. Allport’s concept of “intrinsic” religion. A variation of the proposition that religion is irrational is what might be best called the “ignorance and poor reasoning theory” of religious belief.
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