Monday, March 30, 2009

New York Times article on those unbelieving Swedes and Danes

Phil Zuckerman spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion. It wasn’t easy.

Anyone who has paid attention knows that Denmark and Sweden are among the least religious nations in the world. Polls asking about belief in God, the importance of religion in people’s lives, belief in life after death or church attendance consistently bear this out.

It is also well known that in various rankings of nations by life expectancy, child welfare, literacy, schooling, economic equality, standard of living and competitiveness, Denmark and Sweden stand in the first tier.

Well documented though they may be, these two sets of facts run up against the assumption of many Americans that a society where religion is minimal would be, in Mr. Zuckerman’s words, “rampant with immorality, full of evil and teeming with depravity.”


Article continues...


thanks to M Male.

9 comments:

anticant said...

What sensible people! But increasingly threatened, as the whole of Europe is, by the incursion of irrationalist Islam.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Having read the article, I'm not surprised at all.

I don't expect many people think about existential questions at all. Most, in fact, almost all, the conversations I have with people are about anything but.

It's very rare, in my experience, for someone to ask if you believe in God or an afterlife.

So why is Zuckerman surprised is the real question.

Regards, Paul.

Muddy Funster said...

I think reducing the role of religion to "being nice" and a few purely cultural events is a wonderful idea. And it's quite close to my own personal experience of the Anglican church!

The Comte-Sponville book sounds interesting - has anyone read it?

anticant said...

Reducing the role of religion to "being nice" would be a nice change from its taking the lead in being nasty, which is all too often the case.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I think Zuckerman raises one interesting point, albeit indirectly: how unimportant it is whether people believe in God or not.

For some atheists, like Dawkins, apparently it’s very important that no one believes in God, and, for some theists, it’s very important that everyone believes in God.

But I expect most people simply don’t care. Certainly, I've always believed it’s unimportant (since adolescence at least), and this is one of the contentions I have with Dawkins.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Of course its unimportant whether or not God - whatever that means - actually exists or not.

What IS important is what those who believe there is a God do as a consequence of their belief.

Paul P. Mealing said...

You misunderstand me Anticant. What I say is that it's unimportant, as far as I'm concerned, whether people believe in God or not. What God means to them individually is another matter.

My point is that I don't judge people on whether or not they believe in God, whatever that means to them, because I think it's unimportant. And I think, that for most people, they couldn't give a toss what anyone believes either.

My experience is that people don't discuss this, as Zuckerman found out (how surprising), because it's a very personal issue. It's only when someone tries to tell you what you should believe that people get 'antsy'.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Paul if you think that most people couldn't give a toss what others believe, you are sadly mistaken.

I agree with you that whether someone believes in God or not isn't the determining factor.What matters is how they behave.

Whateverman said...

Cross-posted to the SMRT forums.

Great article. Makes sense to me personally, as I have several Swedish friends who live here in MA. They scoff at the religiosity here in the US, but not condescendingly. They'd rather discuss politics, social policies, etc.

My Grandmother was a Swede; it often took a little effort to get her to talk about religion. She treated it as a private subject.

I wish more people were like this.