Thursday, October 23, 2008

Society Without God

Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were “getting religion” — praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don’t worship any god at all, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the “happiness index” and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer.

Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months, beginning in 2005. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are nonreligious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers.

This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that “society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant.”

”Most Americans are convinced that faith in God is the foundation of civil society. Society Without God reveals this to be nothing more than a well-subscribed, and strangely American, delusion. Even atheists living in the United States will be astonished to discover how unencumbered by religion most Danes and Swedes currently are. This glimpse of an alternate, secular reality is at once humbling and profoundly inspiring — and it comes not a moment too soon. Zuckerman’s research is truly indispensable.”
—Sam Harris
It's not just Denmark and Sweden. Many European countries are essentially secular as are many parts of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Even in the USA, there are pockets of the country where the influence of religion is minimal.

Wake up Christians. Your religion is becoming increasingly superfluous. There's no point in being religious.

[Hat Tip:]


  1. Larry - Did you see the the fluff-story in the 22 Oct issue of nature about sloppiness in terminology? They take on how `Epigenetics` goes to encompass everything under the sun.

    I'm fond of how the segment ends - Quote:
    "Epigenetics is a useful word if you don't know what's going on — if you do, you use something else," [Bird] says.

  2. It isn't just Christians that need to wake up to this, it's atheists as well. Especially those ones who patronisingly say that they understand how much people need to believe in God and how atheism isn't for everyone.

    What insular rot. Americans are predominantly Christian because of where they were born, not because of human frailty or a need for security.

  3. Curiously, in a globalizing neo-industrial society, we revert to simpler forms of religion, such as ancestor worship, team worship, elevation of high status individuals to god-like status (Angelina Jolie as celebrity fertility goddess; Brad Pitt as ?), etc. (Obama worship may be a termporary phenom.) Ancestor worship may be the cultural and/or biologically inscribe basis of veneration of "founding fathers" such as Charles Darwin.

    We can't escape religious expression and behaviour because we can't escape our brains.

  4. The surprise described here is probably an artifact of what is sometimes known as "American Exceptionalism". The U.S.A. scores well outside the range of values of other OECD countries on a great many variables, including prominently measures of religious belief and religious observance (e.g., fraction of the population attending church at a certain frequency, like once per week). The existence of stable, happy, prosperous, non-religious societies should come as no surprise to anybody from any of those societies, or their neighbours.

    Still, this looks like it could be an interesting book. Thanks for putting this up.

  5. hehe
    The religious darwinist telling christians to stop being religious.

    Good luck.