I’ve just finished the most intriguing book—Society without God by Phil Zuckerman.
He begins with these bold, introductory statements:
They may be few and far between, but there are indeed some significant corners of the world today, however atypical, where worship of God and church attendance are minimal. These unusual, exceptional societies—rather than being more religious than ever—are actually less religious than ever. In fact, they aren’t very religious at all. I am referring to two nations in particular, Denmark and Sweden, which are probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world. Amidst all this vibrant global piety—atop the vast swelling sea of sacredness—Denmark and Sweden float along like small, content, durable dinghies of secular life, where most people are nonreligious and don’t worship Jesus or Vishnu, don’t revere sacred texts, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to the essential dogmas of the world’s great faiths.
In clean and green Scandinavia, few people speak of God, few people spend much time thinking about theological matters, and although their media in recent years has done an unusually large amount of reporting on religion, even this is offered as some sort of attempt to grapple with and make sense of this strange foreign phenomenon out there in the wider world that refuses to disappear, a phenomenon that takes on such dire significance for everyone—except, well, for Danes and Swedes. If there is an earthly heaven for secular folk, contemporary Denmark and Sweden may very well be it: quaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful forests, lonely beaches, healthy democracies, among the lowest violent crime rates in the world, the lowest levels of corruption in the world, excellent educational systems, innovative architecture, strong economies, well-supported arts, successful entrepreneurship, clean hospitals, delicious beer, free health care, maverick filmmaking, egalitarian social politics, sleek design, comfortable bike paths—and not much faith in God.
Zuckerman lived in Scandinavia for 14 months, during which time he traveled extensively and interviewed as many people as he could, addressing several key points for this book. First, he argues that “society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant.” Secondly, he reveals how secular worldviews work. For instance, how does one cope with death? How would she or he describe the meaning of life? And thirdly, he refutes the theories that suggest religion is necessary or an integral part of the human condition. [And, indeed, in all my reading, this latter idea---that religion is innate---is a common belief among many scientists and philosophers.]
Aside from the fact that Scandinavia’s population is very homogeneous compared to the States, and therefore less likely to experience rifts among population quarrels (in fact he addresses this in the book), Zuckerman puts forward an interesting and thought-provoking question. Is religion innate? If not, would our society be better off without it?
What do you think?
[Post image: Sweden by dengel on stock.xchng]