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Monday, December 27, 2010

Scandinavia...Atheism?...Really???

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."
The Controversy

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
  • Buddhists,
  • Hindus,
  • Sikhs,
  • Zoroastrians,
  • 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. 

Conclusion:

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. 

Blessed! 

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.  

Crime:

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)

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10 comments:

  1. In a recent C-Span interview on the program Q & A, British House Of Commons representative Diane Abbot asserted that the difference between British and American legal processes hinged upon the fact that there is no vocal religious right within Great Britain.

    There were 3 primary issues that, according to her, aren't even debated in Great Britain and certainly aren't politicized religiously. Those issues are:

    1- Abortion
    2- Homosexual unions
    3- Gun control (there is no right to bear arms as citizens)

    Her claim is that the British people believe that these are given "non-issues" socially and that no religious group has a say in the political process concerning these issues.

    First, I don't believe her to the extent that she was making her case to make it seem that the effect of religious belief on every day moral choices doesn't exist within Great Britain. While the society is certainly different than the US, within the US we know why the founding Fathers thought it was important that the citizens maintain the right to bear arms. Secondly, it seems to be somewhat of a mindless society that will not advocate for their values.

    I would rather have a set of values that are uncompromising rather than allow anything or endorse everything for fear of offending.

    As I have watched the British House Of Commons on television, I find the Brits to be anything but mindless, so I have little regard for Ms. Abbott's assessment of her country's value system even though she's a Sistah!

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  2. If "Christian" nations supposedly have more crime and all, it's probably because of those who oppose all that is right and good and called by the name of God (implied in 2 Thessalonians 2:4a). Wherever God's goodness thrives, it is always opposed. I believe it is because of the mercy of God that the secular nations have not been consumed (yet). But, we are not to fret ourselves over those who "prosper in their own way" (Psalm 37:7; Proverbs 24:19) and to consider that their feet stand in slippery places (Psalm 73:18)...just some thoughts.

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  3. Don't mean to be the voice of controversy, but the reason crime in those nations is increasing is because they are allowing third world immigrants into those countries. If you'll notice, the crime rate was real low in those countries before they started allowing immigrants in, and when they did, crime went up.

    As for gun control, I am opposed to all forms of gun control. Being a gun owner myself, I think gun control is one of the worst things to happen to the U.S. All gun laws in the U.S. are unconstitutional and should be abolished.

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  4. FM,

    I think you're on point. There are too many factors left unassessed to determine or pin down one particular happening as being a cause for the crime rate. So it cuts both ways and that certainly could be a possibility.

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  5. Your facts are very wrong indeed! Scandinavia has a large, highly educated population, much more so than the US. In addition, you do not get taxed 1% if you are a member of the church! Where do you get this stuff, you couldn't be more wrong!!

    It is an embarrassment to say you believe in God, and few Scandinavians will ever admit to being religious. We just don't need it, after all.. life is for the living!

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  6. Anon,

    Maybe you should take your complaint up with the current stats rendered by the US Dept. of State. After all that is the official record and information given from the Scandinavian countries to the US. So rather than asking where I get info, look up the links and do a primary search regarding this issue. Unfortunately for you, I have taken time to do thorough research and place such facts in my article to support what I assert. You simply make statements and point to no source, friendly or foe, to support what you say.

    Then if you don't agree with what I've set forth, or what the facts bear out, then I guess we can readily conclude that atheism must be the cause of the dramatic increase in crime, (over 700% based on facts) low education rate, increasing suicide rate and other social ills that are being suffered?

    So which is it? Obviously you can't have it both ways.

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  7. Since I receive an extraordinarily high number of readers from Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, please correct me if the material facts are incorrect.

    Are the US State Dept. numbers incorrect?

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    Replies
    1. I live in Sweden, and have been to Finland on many occasions. (family)

      I must say, the countries you are describing do not correspond to reality.
      Your numbers, as far as religion goes, are seemingly correct, but a few notes need to be made:

      1. The tax you speak of is 0.2%, and to my understanding, this money goes to maintain the churches.
      2. If you ask someone if they "believe in god", apparently 40% or so will say yes.
      2a. If you ask these 40% if they've ever read the bible, 80%+ will say no.
      2b. If you ask these 40% if they practice(or adhere) to religious doctrine, 80%+ will say no.
      2c. If you ask these 40% if they ever think about religion, or use religion in their decision making at least a few times per month, 80%+ will say no.

      In essence, Religion is a non-issue that almost no-one thinks about or adheres to, or makes decisions based upon.
      If you call this a "Religious" nation, then, in that sense, every country on the planet is 100% "Religious".

      You also falsely make it seem like Religion is being persecuted in these countries - this is not true.
      If someone says they're religious, they're generally met with a "don't really care" kind of attitude - but if you want to lose friends quickly, trying to convert them to religion X is a quick way to do so.

      In other words, "you can do whatever you want privately, but if you start bugging me I'll be annoyed" is a rather permeating attitude towards religion, in Sweden at least.

      Lastly, we have some seriously broken immigration policies that keep throwing people into the same communities while it simultaneously takes around 7 years for an immigrant to land a job.

      This situation is the main reason for the soaring crime rates.

      If you take care to read what I've said, you'll notice that I haven't blamed immigrants for this, but rather put responsibility where responsibility is due, on the crappy policies that keep putting people in bad positions that are really hard to get out of.

      Mind you, most of these get welfare so they can live, and while it's not a great life, they don't have to worry that much about food and shelter. (though apartments are hard to find, so they generally stay at relatives)

      I hope this message has given you some insight into one of the countries you are discussing.

      Kind regards,
      -Sweden

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  8. Anon,

    Thanks for the commentary. As I state in the article, Zuckerman's claim of the success of "organic atheism" can't be supported with the examination of these countries.

    In addition, I think the questions are wrong. To claim that because 80% don't read their bible or that 40% don't adhere to religious doctrine, is simply misleading. I'll explain why. I believe that current practice is in line with past traditions and history and their attitudes seem to be a hold over from the Catholic church who's members didn't read the bible at all at the instruction of the Vicar. To think that the adoption of Lutheranism discontinued practices associated with this type of belief system could be an overstatement.

    I would like to hear the question posed and answered, "Do you follow the directions and or ordinances of your local minister or priest?" I think this would be far more telling and useful than asking if a person reads their bible for instance. Then, how many times does one have to read their bible before one is called a Christian? There is no particular answer although one would think that one should engage their belief regularly, however back to what I said, reading may not be important when one accepts what the priest has to say on certain subjects.

    So thank for the commentary and we appreciate the information.

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  9. I have a hard time believing you've done thorough research. For example, you call Scandinavia "a state". Denmark, Sweden and Norway are seperate countries.

    You also write:
    "Further, most Scandinavian citizens (some 72.9%) are part of the Church Of Sweden."
    That is impossible. Only around 47% of Scandinavian citizens live in Sweden. 37% if you count Finland as part of Scandinavia.

    I live in Denmark. I can recall one single Christian person I know; that's it. Many Danes think that perhaps there's "something" bigger than us, but they don't know for sure - and one thing is sure: They do not practice religion. They do not pray, they do not care about what priests say, and they do not believe in the Bible.

    I am a member of the Danish church. Why? I was automatically made a member when I was baptized (although my parents are atheists - to most Danes baptism is simply a nice tradition without any real meaning or importance) and so far I haven't bothered cancelling my membership. I don't care about that tiny amount I pay in taxes for the church; it is less than 1%. But make no mistake: I have no reason whatsoever to believe in the existance of any god or another kind of higher being. You can't use church statistics for anything. Besides, even though people are members of the church, few people even go there besides at Christmas. The churces are closing one after another because no people come there.

    I live in an agnostic atheist country, and it all works fine. The health care and overall wellfare is one of the best in the world, and the education system is better than that of the USA. The economy is fine too. You should try living here, and you'll see what a good place it is to live. It is not impossible to be good and kind just because you don't have a god; I donate money to charity every month, I help people when they're in need, and I believe everyone will be better off in the end, if the strong support the weak. I know love and morality, and I have no excuse for not practicing it, as opposed to some religious people who suppress other people for not having the same religion.

    Regards,
    Lasse David, Danish agnostic atheist.

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