The following quote from Michael Gerson came up in one of my Atheist Quote of the Day widgets, and I found it interesting. The quote is:
Britain is exhibit A for the secularization thesis - the idea that modernization and scientific rationality will cause religion to wither and die. That is manifestly false in places such as Africa, India or the Muslim world. Only in Europe does it feel true.
-- Michael Gerson
I believe that, at least anectdotally, it is true. I think the primary cause for this European Secularization is education - Europe has had a strong education system, by-and-large, for many many years (centuries?), maybe even since the Renaissance. As we all know education is the enemy of religion, and so I believe that education has help Europe finally break the bonds of religion.
Maybe that's why America is still largely religious - we haven't had a good education system until relatively recently. Just a thought.
I would love to know your thoughts on this - especially from our European members. Is Gerson's observation true? And if so, what do you believe is the cause?
There is also the work of Phil Zuckerman (and others) that shows that correlation between secularization and the level of economic/social security in a country.
and,also, Zuckerman's book "Society Without God" (about his observations from primarily Denmark but also either Sweden or Norway - can't remember which)
Europe has quite a lot of free high quality education... for all (within reason of course) I would imagine that the more developed a country in terms of education, opportunity etc ... the less the need for the opium of religion. How would you explain the U.S? Well the U.S is quite unequal in terms of wealth therefore not everybody is going to get a quality education. There's that plus the huge population. It seems smaller countries are better candidates to be predominantly atheist.
There's also good quality of living i.e. healthcare, housing, education, job opportunity. Take Scandinavia, it scores high in all of these areas and it's the most atheistic region per capita (correct me if I'm wrong here). Generally, could it be that an overall good quality of living leads to less religiosity? Seems very plausible to me.
The number of atheists in both Europe and America and world wide is increasing every year. I think that the availability of/access to education has a lot to do with this trend.
I don't think America is necessarily any more religious than Europe. I think that in America the religious perspectives (especially the crazy ones) tend to get a little too much face time making us appear to be more religious than we actually are. I'm not willing to say one place is definitively more religious than the other until more scientific studies are done (polls are interesting but not especially scientific) and we also need a concise definition of what exactly is included when we say Europe.
I don't think America is necessarily any more religious than Europe.
Anecdotal, I know, but come to Tennessee and see if you still think that.
I've heard put forth, somewhat convincingly, that the reason for America's religiosity in contrast to her peers is largely due to our freedom of religion. That the very enterprising spirit that is often ascribed to American business can also be applied to religion encourages a plethora of faiths tailored to meet the needs of the market rather than the typical approach of forcing the market, a.k.a. the flock, to bend to the will of the faith. Perhaps that keeps many from becoming disenfranchised enough to lose faith whereas in other countries tradition and laws keep in place stagnant churches and dogmas that alienate many.
Religion was probably needed thousands of years ago to unify an uncivilized society in a barbaric and chaotic time. But the progression of mankind through Science and Technology should have eradicated the pathetic need for religion. Unfortunately, a majority of society has remained weak and spineless, constantly fearing the uncertainty of the life and the afterlife. Hence, religion preys on those weaknesses.
European Secularism came about through education, without a doubt. Which includes the kind of books and media they expose themselves to. A quick glance through the best-seller lists in America vs. Europe illustrates the difference in mindset when it comes to religion. Christian books often become best-sellers in America in the non-fiction genre. A joke!
I believe it is completely true. Africa is largely filled with 3rd-world countries to whom modern technology is unavailable (even technology such as clean drinking water and basic healthcare) or scarce. Many Africans must rely on "spiritual medicine" to fill the gap.
India is vastly overpopulated and because there is such a high concentration of people, there is also a high concentration of religiosity. This religiosity will, over time, become diluted enough to become more and more noticeable. However, for India, it might be a hundred years.
The Muslim world yearns to be back in the Bronze age, as evidenced by their subjection of women, primitive dress and the condition of the average peasant's home in Muslim countries. If they ever embrace technology, it will only be a few of them still living in such countries, and only enough technology to kill the infadel.
In order to cause a global collapse of religion, the most affluent country, the USA, needs to become devoid of religion first. For that, Christianity must fall.
Your statement, "education is the enemy of religion," holds the key. Look at the geographic area in this country, known as the "Bible Belt," and you will also find that educational levels in these states are lower than others.
I've spent a great deal of time in some of those states, and it has been my personal observation that those who "believe," do so blindly - I can think of none I've ever known who would even consider studying the background of the Bible, determining as I have which figures were historical and which were fictional.
It would never occur to them to look into records of Egypt for example, and learn that in a country that has been largely unearthed by teams of archaeologists over the past century, no trace of a world-wide flood exists; that there isn't enough water in, on, under or above the earth to cover it past the tops of the mountains; that to feed and water two (or seven) of all species of animals (if somehow koalas managed to swim to Mesopotamia) for more than a year, would take an ark a thousand times larger than Noah's; or that with only one 18"X18" window, closed in a water-tight - thus air-tight - ship, and it not opened until the very end, would result in the build-up of methane gas from animal flatulence that would have obliterated the ark in a mushroom cloud upon the lighting of the first match - they never even consider such things. They live by the circular logic that "the Bible's true, because the Bible says it is."
The advancement of education into these areas will increase their exposure to greater scientific knowledge and a better grasp of critical thinking, then this too, shall pass.
I don't believe the education hypothesis is too strong, but rather that there are a host of other reasons which probably explain better.
My native country of Norway is one of the most secular in the world. However, receiving a high school education did not become common until the seventies (my father has only middle school), and a legal right to high school was not made until 1994. Though Norway may have been late (not sure about this) by comparison to neighboring countries, I doubt it would be by a long amount time.
There are other things which I believe have contributed substantially more to the secularization of Europe vis-a-vis the US. If you go back to the middle of the last century I'm confident you would find much less difference. Back then, the majority of populations were religious, at least to a certain extent. I believe the diverging paths since has a lot to do with the "product" religion which has been, like most other products, much more stringently regulated on this side of the pond. The US has had a "free market" of religion with a large number of competing "products", while in Europe there is usually one religion/denomination dominating the marketplace. The "product" has therefore been exposed to more competition in the US and is therefore much more refined, ensuring higher "consumption".
You could also add that Europe has had a lot more socialism, national/social cohesiveness is higher, after WW2 extremism has been frowned upon, state religion in a number of countries, a multitude of other venues for socializing, more religious traditions make religion itself harder to "fit" into modernity, many of the prominent people were atheist, etc.
This is pretty much what I said earlier, only worded better. I think there is an inverse correlation with education level and god belief, but other factors play large roles when comparing societies. Also, I hear there is a good amount of beleif in woo-woo in Britain despite a more secular society. It may well be that the god beleif is simply replaced with another beleif that is just as silly.
RE: "I don't believe the education hypothesis is too strong"
With all due respect Arcus, I can only say that you may not be as familiar as I am with the term, "Redneck," for which you should be eternally grateful to your Norwegian parents.
I'm familiar with the term and those who embrace it. However, most of the religious people I know are not rednecks and are neither uneducated nor unintelligent. Education is only one factor of the equation.