Humans Are Found To Not Need Religion

Phil Zuckerman is a sociologist who currently teaches at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.  He recently wrote a book, “Society Without God” (New York University Press, 2008), about his 14 month stay in Scandinavia talking to hundreds of Swedes and Danes about religion .

Polls have consistently shown that Sweden and Denmark are the least religious nations in the world. The citizens rank religion, belief in life after death, and church attendance at the bottom of their priorities or worries…yet they are always in the lead for child welfare, literacy, standard of living, economic equality, life expectancy, and competitiveness.

These facts run smack into most American’s assumption that a society where religion is not in the forefront or in a state of constant reaffirmation and belief will be full of evil, rampant with immorality, and seething with sexual depravity.

Mr. Zuckerman insists at great length that that is not the case. He, his wife and children experienced the exact opposite: “a society…a markedly irreligious society…that was, above all, moral, stable, humane and deeply good.”

The nonbelievers he interviewed informally and in structured taped sessions were not anti-religious and most did not really accept the label of atheist, and most had been baptized or confirmed at an early age, or even married in the church.  But, at the same time they were “often disinclined or hesitant to talk to me about religion, and once they agreed to, they usually had very little to say on the subject.”

Though they denied the traditional teachings of Christianity, they do call themselves Christians and most continued to remain in the traditional national branches of the Lutheran denomination.

Do they consider religion a deeply private or personal matter? One Lutheran Bishop in Denmark has argued that deep religiousness could be found if one scratches the surface.

Mr. Zuckerman replies that he spent a year and scratched and scratched, and scratched to no avail.  His conclusion was that “religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather a non-issue.”  His interviewees just didn’t care about it.

The writer found what he termed “benign indifference and utter obliviousness.  He says that the key word used in their description is “nice.”  Religion is “nice.”  Jesus was a “nice” man who taught some “nice” things.” The Bible “is full of “nice” stories and good morals, isn’t it?”

The Swedes and Danes were generally thoughtful and well educated and reacted to Mr. Zuckerman’s basic questions about God, Jesus, death, etc. as completely novel.  “I really have never thought about that,” and added, “it’s been fun to get these kinds of questions that I never think about.”

The indifference to religious matters is subtly enforced.  “In Denmark,” a pastor told the writer, “the word ‘God’ is one of the most embarrassing words you can say.  You would rather go naked through the city than talk about God.”

Mr. Zuckerman also noted that the people he interviewed seem to speak of death without any fear or anxiety, and had a notable lack of existential searching for the ‘meaning of life,’ but he emphasizes that his interviewees were in no way despairing nihilists but “for the most part, a happy, satisfied lot” who “generally live productive, creative, contented lives.”

Humans are said to turn to religion or something like it, when faced with the mystery of death and the puzzle about life’s ultimate meaning, however, based on his experiences in Scandinavia, the writer disagrees.  “It is possible for a society to exist in which most people don’t really fear death all that much,” he concluded, “and simultaneously don’t give a great deal of thought to the meaning of life.”

Mr. Zuckerman queries Jens, a 68-year-old nonbeliever, about the sources of Denmark’s very ethical culture and Jens replied: “We are Lutherans in our souls…I’m an atheist, but still have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor. Yeah. It’s an old, good, moral thought.”  (my emphasis)

Mankind it seems can survive just fine outside of the stifling confines and restrictions of any religion…just as I have known for 50 years.

As anybody who has paid some attention to the news in the last 10 or 20 years can tell you… religion or people who are religious are not protected from “SIN.” Witness the many stories of pastors, priests, ministers, and rabbi’s who are constantly in the news, having been caught cheating on their spouses, doing drugs, cheating on taxes, having homosexual trysts, or even child abuse and murder.  Our prisons are full of Christians…not very many atheists though.

“In the eleventh century, Isaac ibn Yashush, a Jewish court physician of a ruler in Muslim Spain, pointed out that a list of Edomite kings that appears in Genesis 36 named kings who lived long after Moses was dead. Ibn Yashush suggested that the list was written by someone who lived after Moses. The response to his conclusion was that he was called “Isaac the blunderer.”
History however has proven him to be correct.

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About the word of me
Interested in family and friends,grandchildren, photography, darkrooms, history, archaeology, scuba diving, computers, software, fast cars, journalism, writing, travel, ecology, news, science, and probably most other subjects you could think of. Did I mention family and friends?? I require iced tea or cold brewed coffee and a internet connection to be fully functional. Sometimes there are just so many words in my head they spill out.

8 Responses to Humans Are Found To Not Need Religion

  1. Kim says:

    I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am also part Danish, my grandmother came from there. I also have cousins in Denmark with whom I have been in contact since I was a child. I have also visited Denmark a number of times to see my family and experience my roots. I have also worshiped in the Lutheran tradition for much of my life, until the last 15 years. I did not take it lightly, but even so, somehow missed much of what God wanted me to grasp about Him and about myself.

    Much of what the article above says about the Danes (I am unfamiliar with the Swedes) is very true. They are truly a good hearted, gracious people who have a zest for life and who, for the most part, have a high standard of living. Most of my family there have married in the church, baptized their babies, have had their children confirmed at the correct age, and bury their dead in the church. The rest of the time they find no interest in “religion” as you have noted.

    Just a couple of points to offer into the bigger picture. While the Danes are heavily taxed, they have cradle to grave care from the government. Their mentality is made very comfortable and content by that reality. No need to seek reliace on a supernatural God. Also, having been a Lutheran myself most of my life I recognize that because of certain beliefs included in that tradition, even here in America, the question of heaven and hell has, to a large degree, been settled early in a Lutheran’s life by their tradition. Even more so in Scandinavia where the government imposes a church tax on every citizen to support the church, they neither have to attend, or believe much of anything to have it settled early in their lives through tradition, about heaven and hell. I can see where it has become a non-issue, therefore, why get all in a lather about God. I was cautioned by my father, and by at least one pastor, along the same lines several times in my youth.

    Now I’m not speaking for every Lutheran, but speaking about myself alone, that in that religious environment, my heart remained untouched and cold by and towards God’s amazing grace that He would offer His own Son to be punished on my behalf and in my stead. I just did not feel compelled by the love of Christ to follow Him very closely at all. Religion was something I had known and been comfortable with all my life, but never had to deal with the severity of my sin or the question of heaven or hell.

    For me personally, I had to leave the “religious” tradition of my heritage in order to discover how much I needed God’s mercy. This isn’t true for every Lutheran, but it is for some, and it was true of me.

    Lastly, there is a world of difference between “religion” (a following of a checklist of do’s or don’ts in order to achieve favor with God or access to His presence) vs. a relationship with the living God. I have opted for the latter and find it an amazing journey of discovery and joy, mixed in with a growing knowledge of who I am, left on my own, without Him. I need Him to be all that He created me to be.

    One final comment. On one trip here to America to visit family, my cousin agreed for the first time to attend church with us. While he sat through the service looking totally disinterested and distracted, upon leaving he commented that he thoroughly enjoyed the pastor’s teaching because it was understandable and applicable to life today. He commented on what a church service in Denmark looked like, lacking any attempt to bring the Word of God down to the understanding of the average listeners. But in a belief system where the heaven/hell issue is settled by a ceremony, why press the issue, why make people uncomfortable bringing up “God” when everything is already set in place. That, to me, is a dangerous deception that comes from “religion” – that check list of do’s and don’ts. It, I’m sure, saddens the heart of God that many of His Scandinavian children have so little interest in the wondrous gifts He has offered us all. I’m also sure that the purveyors of religion are quite satisfied with such an outcome.

  2. Justin says:

    This article is stupid, Sweden and Denmark have Christian laws, even though most people are not Christian they follow the laws of Christianity.
    Ever heard about the Jacobins, right after the French Revolution, the Jacobins took away Christianity and Catholicism and slaughterd 17,000 people even though most historians say 40,000 people just because those people wanted Christianity back.
    Lenin made consentracion camps for religious people, Stalin killed up to what some believe 60 million people! because he was an Atheist, Hitler certainly wasn’t Christian if you read some of the letters he wrote, he wrote about how Christianity runied the ancient world and how he wanted Christianity to die a natural, slow and painful death.
    I have travelled to poor countires and seen poor people, for example, a couple of years ago I went to Mozambique and there were many extremly poor people, but the thing that made them happy was Jesus and the Bible. Now if your going to be so evil and take that away because your bias and cruel.
    Those people would have no hope and there would be a lot more killing.
    When you take God out of the life, you need to take away law for you to fully take God out of the way, as God gave us the law.
    So when you do this you have a choice to do good what is pointless or do bad what is also pointless but whatever one you do it doesn’t matter in a Atheist country killing someone should be ok ask the your communist and facist friends down there when you reach it.
    Atheism=Anarchy, what =killing, rape, no law, abortion, gay marriage and no God this is all Blasphemous and moral badness.
    You become President and take away Christianity see how you will become the 45th on that list of 45.
    Stop la la ling and look up what happens when you take away God.

  3. thewordofme says:

    Hello again Kim,

    Thank you for writing such a pleasant reply and testimony of your faith. You seem to be a really nice person and I wish you the best that life has to offer.

    The post I wrote was in reply to the surprisingly large number of Christians that have it in their heads that because atheists reject God and Jesus as fictional characters in a supernatural worldview that we will have no moral compass, and will go out into the world and kill and rape and plunder the Christian folk. This is obviously not true, but some do believe it.

    I was fascinated by the story of Mr. Zuckerman and the Scandinavian people and society. So now all of us in the rest of the world know that it is possible to build a great society…and do all the right things… without constantly calling on a magical entity. I keep telling people that, but no one here believes me. 🙂

    The non-religious people I know (and me) just live by the “Golden Rule,” and seem to fit in with society just fine. We also help our neighbors, volunteer our time and dollars, help the poor and disadvantaged, some of us even end up in foxholes 🙂 occasionally, and are in general good people…we just believe in one less God than you do.

  4. Seer says:

    Not all Atheists follow the golden rule and that goes the same for religious folks. They are there, but the real ones generally do not have blogs. They are too busy getting on with doing the neighbourly thing.


  5. Dave Wyman says:

    Scanning twom’s posts backwards, I come to this thought from Kim:

    “I have opted for the latter and find it an amazing journey of discovery and joy, mixed in with a growing KNOWLEDGE [emphasis mine) of who I am”

    You have left off the major component you need to be saved, Kim. The word “faith” appears nowhere in that sentence. I would like to you to explain how you have “knowledge” of your relationship with God, rather than faith that you have a relationship with Him.

    Because, in your next post here, you’re going to claim that knowledge is not necessary to have a belief in God.

    You say what you want to serve your own psychological purpose. You’re either a weak believer, a closet-atheist attempting to mollify your guilt, or something uglier – and hidden deep inside yourself – which makes you change your tune with every utterance. Something, say, like a demon, or a lack of critical thinking (the two are linked, of course).

    Let me remind you that in your next post, you will assert “He existed before science, and He will rule as LORD long after it all disappears”

    Yet here you (hypocritically) claim “knowledge” about your relationship with God.

  6. Dave Wyman says:

    “Hitler certainly wasn’t Christian if you read some of the letters he wrote”

    There goes Justin, popping off about Hitler to prove an article about the Scandinavians is stupid.

    And of course if we read what Hitler wrote, we see he most definitely thought he was a Christian. Here from his private notes:

    ” 1. Introduction
    1. The Bible
    2. The Aryan
    3. His Works
    4. The Jew
    5. His Work

    1. The Bible — Monumental History of Mankind

    Then Hitler writes about “Children of God and Men”

    and then he worries about the “Purification of the Bible– what of its spirit remains?”

    So Justin lies about Hitler. Someone who would lie, he who would make judgements about someone else, is not a real Christian.

    Worse, Justin points to what he claims are Hitler’s thoughts in his (Hitler’s) letters about Christianity to prove a point. As we know, a real Christian doesn’t need proof to believe in God.

    So Justin has again perverted the meaning of God and belief.

    Why would he do that? As we seen in his follow-up comments in the next post, he thinks there is a god because of science. He will, in the next post, claim “Science has shown” and “Evolution works.”

    So here again, in the prequel, he claims knowledge will help lead to God. He takes faith out of belief. He will see soon enough where that leads him. It’s going to lead Justin to Hell.

  7. Dave Wyman says:

    “Thank you for writing such a pleasant reply and testimony of your faith. You seem to be a really nice person and I wish you the best that life has to offer.”

    I’m not mistaking that you meant the above for me. I simply remark that thou hast the patience of Job, twom (and I hope you also have at least a little sense of twisted humor).

    I salute you.

  8. thewordofme says:

    Hi Dave,

    My wife says I have a wicked sense of humor and I think I need it to survive being a blog writer on religion.

    Thanks for kicking in,
    Bonn Chance

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