Don't take the stars too seriously in this case. I think this book will be useful to some and useless to others.
Roger Sheiman, "grew up in a religious-neutral, theologically confused household. [...] went to a Jesuit college and learned to do what Jesuits do--question everything, including religion. Self-reflection and critical reasoning were the forces that molded me into an obstinate atheist."
Sheiman would like to believe in God, but can't, yet finds his atheism rather barren. "devoid of depth, value, and meaning." I simply disagree, so these arguments don't move me. The reader who is troubled by such questions would probably do well to pick up this book. To be fair, Sheiman is speaking about society at large more than giving individual advice.
Unlike David G. Myers in A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God Is Good and Faith Isn't Evil, he does not urge atheists and skeptics to practice religion in hopes of becoming religious. He does, however, think that religion is a great force for good in the lives of humanity. At times he is talking about any and all religions, but at other times he exalts Christianity above all others.
I came to atheism by another route: I was religious as a child and became disillusioned. To me, accepting atheism was finding a sanctuary. I share some of the distress of Sheiman and others at militant atheism, as practiced by the belligerent Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., but I am also disheartened by the fact that atheists are attacked merely for being atheists, so I suppose one might argue that one might as well be tactless.
I don't find Sheiman's glorification of religion entirely convincing. The argument that churchgoers are superior people simply doesn't resonate, giving my experience with actually going to church. I don't look back and think that those were loving, supportive people and that I miss the experience of going to church. I know several deeply religious people who are truly models for humanity, but I'm not convinced that it is their church-going and not their nature that makes them so wonderful. Consider the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church who picket soldiers' funerals and spew hatred with almost everything they say publicly. They certainly seem to be ardent in their faith and practice. Even so, I know good people who find their churches central to their lives, and I would never attempt to take it away from them.
Sheiman has a lot of impressive statistics, but there are other counter statistics. Some similar statistics, especially in David G. Myers book, seem a little ambiguous. The conservative Christian David Kinnaman reveals in the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters that public opinion about Christians has gone south. especially among those under thirty, as people find them overly judgmental, hypocritical and insensitive. When one compares these to the case made in Phil Zuckerman's Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, it will take a better head than mine to make sense of it all. Why isn't the United States a "kinder, gentler nation" since it is so religious? Why don't we score better on measures of social welfare? Mike Cuthbert of NPR was interviewing T. R. Reid about his new book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care and wondering, rather indignantly, why "post-religious" wealthy European democracies are willing to provide health care as a right, and the church-going United States allows tens of thousands of people to die every year from treatable diseases. I'm not sure that "large" and "not homogeneous" are adequate explanations if all religions strive for human welfare; besides the US is still largely Christian and was even more so in the past.
There is one part of the book which is truly bad, and the most charitable interpretation that one can make is that Sheiman has seriously misunderstood works like The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. That is chapter 11, "The Existential Implications of Science: Does Life Have a Purpose?". His CARL (Chance + Accidents + Randomness + Luck) is a misrepresentation of the arguments of science; the only question is whether or not it is deliberate. In evolution, as Dawkins and many other science writers have explained, CARL is acted upon by natural selection, which is not at all random, so the chapter is almost entirely nonsense and put me quite out of patience with Sheiman. The entropy argument has been repeatedly discredited: it applies to closed systems, and the earth is an open system constantly receiving energy from the sun.
He further posits "intelligent design without intelligence divine." Stephen Gould, who he quotes in other places, would argue vehemently against his claim that life tends toward complexity. I find this concept too poorly developed to make sense of how this is supposed to work. If this comforts Sheiman on a personal level, I wouldn't try to argue him out of it, but as presented for general consumption in this book, I find it very unconvincing, and personally, unnecessary.