Psalms 9:17 ~ The wicked shall be turned INTO HELL, [and] all the nations that forget God.
Across the internet, Scandinavia and other so called "secular" nations are held up as the poster children for atheism and secularism, being hailed as a place that proves that men can be "good without God" and that societies in general are better off without God or religion of any sort. Why is this so? It begins with assertions that the country enjoins the lowest rate of social ills and speculations that the country is among some of least religious countries in the world.
I certainly don't intend to bash the good ole Scandinavian homeland, (Denmark, Finland, Norway & Sweden) but current trends show that crime rates are ever increasing in certain Scandinavian provinces and in some places crime exceeds that of dreaded New York City. With a reported number of rapes being 6 times higher than New York One online news source reported the following as long ago as 2007:
"No country has fewer police per capita than Norway, as many as 70 percent of so-called petty crimes are never followed up, and while the police force has increased 150 percent since 1960, the crime rate has increased 700 percent."
Atheist/Humanist Phil Zuckerman, associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in California, in his article, "Is Faith Good For Us" certainly doesn't see things this way at all. He contrasts religious and so called secular societies and states the following:
"A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries-those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics-are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations-wherein worship of God is in abundance-are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor, and destitute." ~ Phil Zuckerman
Now, this is a staving and no holds barred assertion and one based on Mr. Zuckerman's experience living within the nations for a certain period of time. Aside from the fact that the statistics, which are public knowledge, don't equal or support his assertions, as Christians I believe that there are questions that we should ask ourselves and more profound discussions to undertake when addressing the real issues surrounding the argument. I would say this:
For centuries as Christians we've held, the more God the better. Not just "a god" but the true and living God, through Jesus Christ the Lord as described within the text of the Holy written word of God...but Scandinavia, at least according to the critics, is living proof that the word of God is wrong and Jesus and religion in general aren't necessary for a healthy and vibrant society. Is there any possibility that anti-theistic worldviews are more healthy and beneficial to mankind than those found within religion and Christianity in particular? Secondly, is there any possibility that a nation is better off when they are described as "organically atheist" and therefore not reliant upon biblically described and defined moral values and theism in general?
Let's Pretend For A Minute
Since anti-God and anti-religion proponents often use Scandinavia to hail the virtues of non-belief, let's pretend for a very short minute that the statistics and material facts against their argument are flawed and that Scandinavia really is a secular state or society growing in "organic atheism".
What are we to make of this apparent point in favor of biblical and religious critics?
Answer: Even if it were true, I'd say NOT MUCH!
The assertion itself causes us to question the critics in at least two areas fundamental to the conversation:
1- Can any society, including Scandinavia truly represent a secularized country with a high rate of what Dr. Zuckerman deems "organic atheism"?
2- While leading atheist proponents propose that Scandinavia is an atheist society with no need for religion, it also suffers from a significantly low educational rate. (Zuckerman holds that Scandinavia is an exception to this rule ~ see below) based on the actual facts, do we believe it to be fair to assume that atheism or anti-theistic sentiments are somehow related to low intelligence?
I'd certainly say that I don't believe the latter to be the case, ( so to all my atheist friends, I won't go there if you don't) but biblical critics seem to love thoughts that Scandinavia somehow speaks in favor of "godlessness" and humanism/atheism in general, while explaining away or never addressing the problems associated with poor education. My position is that the facts cannot simply be arbitrarily separated to support our position no matter which side of the equation that one is on.
Back To Reality:
Scandinavia & Religion The Truth
What studies such as Mr. Zuckerman's fail to mention is that Scandinavian nations are historically known for religion which includes a well founded history of religious freedom and education. According to the US Department of State Scandinavia not only provides full protections against religious discrimination, but they also have compulsory religious education in schools. Further, most Scandinavian citizens (some 72.9%) are part of the Church Of Sweden which is a Lutheran religious organization. Other Protestant groups total approximately 4.4 percent (400,000 persons) of the population.
Even Taxes Can't Eliminate Church Membership
There is some confusion over declining membership in the Scandinavian church. The critic out of hand associates this decline to growing anti-religious Scandinavian sentiments and the rise in "organic atheism". What they don't realize, and sometimes fail to mention is that this decline is partially due to the fact that there was not only a legal separation between church and state within these countries, but that members of the church are also taxed by the state as a result of membership. This is a startling fact. Tax and estate conservation reasons could be significant reasons to not be a part of the church for many in Scandinavian provinces.
Prior to 1996, all children born to any member of the church was automatically included as a part of the church, and the 49,757 members left the Church (0.8 percent of registered members) in 2008 left primarily because of economic reasons. As stated, Scandinavian church membership carries a tax on income, normally less than 1 percent howbeit separated members can still attend services.
I would imagine that church membership in the United States would decline to ZERO if American citizens were taxed to be a part of it even at 1% going to the government. However most religious critics often fail to mention this very important information, rather asserting that the decline in church membership is the proof of the rise of "organic atheism" and expansion of a secular society.
The Facts Please:
Even in spite of taxation by association, in 2008, the Church actually baptized 59% of all children born in the countries. The Church married 44% of all couples. Approximately 5% (450,000-500,000) of the population is Muslim, although the officially sanctioned Muslim Council of Sweden, for government funding purposes, reported only 106,327 active participants.
Other religious communities representing fewer than 5% of the population include
- Pentecostal churches,
- Missionary (or Missions) Church,
- Jehovah's Witnesses,
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
In addition, the number of Jewish believing citizens is approximately 20,000. The Jewish community estimates that there are 8,000 practicing members. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues, found mostly in the cities. Large numbers of Jews attend High Holy Day services, and the synagogues normally also fill up for weekly services.
Smaller communities are concentrated in larger cities and include
- Hare Krishnas,
- Churches of Scientology,
- Word of Faith churches
- Unification Churches
If God and religion are dead in Scandinavia, one couldn't tell it by the official numbers or what the country hails as a pride for religious freedoms and interactions of all peoples.Even in the face of taxation Scandinavian citizens continue to associate themselves and their families with the church and religion in general.
Scandinavia and Suicide
Now, here is where it gets sticky. One of the first things to note is that, with some exception, Scandinavian countries have a suicide rate on par with other developed nations. However, comparatively for the size of the country, there is something to be concerned about. The facts are as follows:
Per 100,000 citizens the suicide rate is as follows:
Denmark ~ 10.6% (through 2006)
Finland ~ 18.8% (through 2007)
Norway ~ 11.4% (through 2006)
Sweden ~ 13.2% (through 2006)
As a comparison the overall rate of suicide within the US was 11.1% through 2005.
Now, the anti-God and anti-religious critic is constrained in this area and often does not tie the suicide rate to Scandinavian "secularization" if any. In their world the two don't meet and although that is a possibility, the suicide rate in general has either declined or remained the same as individuals have officially left the church. So the sheer numbers do not make the case either or or against religion and Christianity in general but we should further observe the facts about suicide and religion in general.
The ''Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology'' published in 2000 and co-edited by Maris, Berman, and Silverman, lists at least 62 independent risk factors that potentially contribute to suicide, including mental disorders, alcoholism, substance abuse, social isolation, poor problem-solving, problems with aggression and rage, a sense of worthlessness, and a sense of hopelessness.
The facts are that religion in general directly combats all of the primary ills responsible for most suicidal tendencies and behavior. Christianity in particular along with it's message of peace, and rich value system, hails the concepts of purpose, personal value and self worth, and connectedness teaching individuals how to address and solve some of life's more complex problems. If the link exists that Scandinavia is becoming more secular and that the society is becoming more "organically atheist" then the link also exists that Scandinavians are borrowing from the practices and worldviews of religion to address and solve problems. In other words the proof does not support the argument that religion is somehow, on scale, simply being left at the door as an insignificant part of Scandinavian life.
In short, the claims that the rise in Scandinavian "organic atheism" makes the society better doesn't hold up when examined under the weight of the evidence. Those in the know have consistently stated that non religion does not mean "atheism" or "anti-theism". In fact when the case is examined fairly, Scandinavia, similar to Great Britian, may have a liberal society with non politicized religious values, but it is certainly a far cry from one that embraces atheism as a world view.
Scandinavian Christians in particular, like most Christians, are diverse with various approaches to ministry, but are yet doing the work of the Lord within their communities given the set of circumstances that they have to work with. The fact is that religious belief and Christianity in particular effects social and moral value systems of any society positively and these facts have been proven historically.
Scandinavia is not turned into hell because the facts to not bear out the assertion that this nation has turned against God. The persistence of the atheist and humanist in making the case that societies are better off without God certainly cannot be made by looking at or examining Scandinavia.
Additional Information & Resources:
1- More On Zuckerman's assertions:
Within the same article, "Is Faith Good For Us?" Zuckerman notes:
"A country's suicide rate stands out as the one indicator of societal health in which religious nations fare much better than secular nations. According to the 2003 World Health Organization's report on international male suicide rates (http://www.who.int/en/), the nations with the lowest rates of suicide were all highly religious, characterized by extremely high levels of theism (usually of the Muslim and Catholic varieties). Of the ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, five were distinctly irreligious nations ranked among the top twenty-five nations listed earlier. These five are Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Russia, and Slovenia. It is interesting to note that of the nations currently experiencing the highest rates of suicide-including the five just mentioned-nearly all are former Soviet/communist-dominated societies. (The nations of Scandinavia, where organic atheism is strongest, do not have the highest suicide rates in the world, as is widely thought to be the case.)" (Emphasis added)
For Zuckerman the secular nature of Scandinavia is a fore-gone conclusion. Howbeit, he admits that "religious nations" or nations which have an identifiable religious underpinning in their value systems, fare much better on average in mental health than "irreligious" nations. Of course, to him, Scandinavia is the exception to the rule. However, he does not present an accurate picture of religion within Scandinavia. In other words Zuckerman seems to create the myth of Scandinavian "organic atheism" in spite of the facts that Scandinavian religion is yet in tact and still effects most of society even if in the most liberal of ways.
There is also a "Death Due To Suicide" chart that should be examined to see how suicide numbers have changed from year to year in most european nations and countries.
2- Critics, including Zuckerman, often assert that most crime is done by religious individuals or individual who have a religious moral base and even their religious belief does not keep them from committing crime in general. They of course hail, extremists such as suicide bombers and terrorists to support their assertions.
Although there is a great discussion that could be made on that subject, to stick to the issue at hand it can be noted that Scandinavian states are socially and criminally liberal. This social liberality extends to the point where certain actions, considered to be crimes in other countries such as the United States and many other religiously based nations, are simply legal in many socially liberal nations. Such things include the legalization of certain drugs and the legalization of prostitution which under certain condition are not considered crimes in many of these nations. Even with that said, it is no question that Scandinavia has suffered from an increase in crime as the article references at the beginning of the post. Remember, Scandinavian crime has increased over 700% since the 1960's. Once again, even throwing out certain non-crimes that are crimes in most countries where religious belief represents a major portion of the population, an increase in "organic atheism" doesn't seem to provide the basis for most of the atheistic assertions made regarding the issue.
3- The New York Times went further in depth into what Zuckerman actually said and concluded that non-belief certainly didn't equate to atheism. The article is "Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Certainly Not To Say Atheists" NY Times 2/2009
4- There is a hot debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Daniel Dennett which addresses the issue.
5- Additional Information from 2005 Study, "What The World Thinks Of God". As one can see, the world's belief in a "God" far outweighs the alternative(s)