Field of Science

Society without god

My friend Phil Zuckerman, Professor of sociology at Pitzer College, has a new book out about the godlessness of Scandinavia: Society Without God. The take-home message is that some of the most prosperous nations by any measure are also the most godless. Belief in gods is no necessity for a society to have happy, wealthy, caring, etc. citizens.

There is a review of it on Salon, which is largely favorable, but does reprimand it for basing it's conclusions on perhaps too few data, and for not bringing up the "dark undercurents of Scandinavian life: dismal weather, a heavy tax burden, low fertility, high alcoholism, a suicide rate twice that of America. (Maybe godlessness has its downsides?)"
  • Dismal weather? That's a critique that has anything to do with the topic at hand? Come on!
  • High taxes is of course what keeps a good society running - something that Americans have yet to realize. Scandinavians do complain about the tax burden, but those who are serious are free to move (and some do). The rest stays, and apparently prefer to reap the innumerable benefits that the taxes afford everyone.
  • Low fertility. Is. A. Good. Thing.
  • High alcoholism... I don't know that it is worse than so many other places, but I could believe it. That's a bad thing. But not very bad. Alcoholics don't hate people who don't believe in drinking.
  • The suicide rate is high, that is true. No studies have suggested that it has anything to do with godlessness. It is rather an effect of the long hours of darkness during the winter (I didn't make that up, but I do admit that I am just throwing it out there).
The review ends on this note about imagining living in a society where most people don't believe the story of Noah's Ark is history:
Well, we'll have to imagine it because America will never be that country. And Zuckerman has come up with some good reasons why: our Puritan ancestry; the increased religiosity associated with immigrants and the poor; the mad proliferation of faiths that forces churches to compete for worshippers. In my mind, there's a larger reason. Despite the religious skepticism of our Founding Fathers, the exceptionalism that has marked America's character from the start has always demanded divine corroboration. Take away God, and our destiny doesn't look quite so manifest. The shining city on a hill becomes just another city, just another hill.
Take away God, and your destiny isn't certain. That's an argument that America will never be godless? Convincing who?

Update 10/24:
Phil Zuckerman directed my attention to a list of suicide rates on
It is clearly completely bogus that Denmark has a suicide rate twice that of the US:

Update 10/24 a little later:
Louis Bayard wrote me back that he had gotten the information from an article in Time about a book The Scandinavians by Donald S. Connery. Mr. Bayard had "no intent to mislead or offend," he wrote me.

Update 10/27:
Louis Bayard wrote me another email pointing out that the statistics above are for males only. For females the numbers are 11.3 and 4.4 for Denmark and the US, respectively. So, for females the suicide rate is more than twice as high in Denmark.

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