The “meliorist” argument:
Religion deserves an exalted place in American life because of the extensive good works religious institutions reliably perform. Consider the vast scope of charitable, medical, and educational activities still undertaken by religious groups today, not least the Catholic Church. It operates nearly 7,500 primary and secondary schools, enrolling 2.5 million students. It runs 5,600 hospitals (composing nearly 13 percent of American hospitals and 15 percent of hospital beds), 400 health centers, and 1,500 specialized homes. All told, the Church’s institutional network (encompasses the largest private education health-care systems in the country. Catholic Charities USA is the seventh-largest charity in the nation (the second largest being the Salvation Army).
In addition, a growing body of social-science research correlates religious belief very persuasively with the fostering of generosity, law-abidingness, helpfulness to others, civic engagement, social trust, and many other essential traits.
High-profile scholars as diverse as Byron Johnson, Arthur Brooks, Jonathan Haidt and Robert Putnam have testified to these findings. Of course, there will always be hypocrites, charlatans, fakes, and abusers in religious organizations, as in all parts of life. But it would appear that, far from religion being a poison, as the late Christopher Kitchens liked to say, religion has, at least in America, been an antidote.