Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment by Phil Zuckerman

Phil Zuckerman explores an oft-ignored segment of the world: non-religious societies. In this sociological exploration of individual perceptions, belief, and contentment, Zuckerman conducted hundreds of interviews with people in Denmark and Sweden, two of the least religious nations on earth, seeking to discover if these heathen places really do fall into chaos, immorality, hopelessness, and violence as is often claimed by religious fanatics.

What Zuckerman discovers is just the opposite of what Christian leaders often proclaim. Not only is violence markedly lower in these places, but the atheistic leanings of the majority of the inhabitants leaves a largely content, hopeful, and moral population, one in which religion plays a largely ceremonial, cultural role.

Several of the chapters are large excerpts from the author's interviews, detailing specific people Zuckerman feels are particularly representative of the sorts of reactions and opinions he recorded in his months researching this project.

Zuckerman uses this book to directly counter arguments made about the need for Christian society in order to have morality and hope and all sorts of other feel-good descriptors. Fear of death and meaning of life get a whole chapter as the author shows that the people he talked with were greatly indifferent to the topics which cause great anxiety in the US (and other highly-religious states). Zuckerman even encounters a significant number of respondents who had clearly never really thought about religion (and had to pause to consider whether they even believed in God!).

Zuckerman is clearly to point out in several spots that this book does not serve as an actual set of data which can be used to generalize across all of Denmark, Sweden, or any other largely-secular society. His methods and sampling have serious problems, and he is upfront about applying his data to any other group.

However, it is clear from this book that secular society is not the chaotic, violent, hopeless and helpless state that is so often described by fanatical Christians who seek to Christianize all society. Religion plays no big role in the people Zuckerman interviews, and yet their lives are clearly no less meaningful and reasonable than anyone in the US (and in many instances, appear to be happier and more meaningful). This short book is a quick read, and a strong argument for more scientific studies of secular societies and the claims of cultural degeneration made in modern religious socieities. Four stars.

(posted on my blog: davenichols.net)

Tags: Christianity, atheism, contentment, religion, society, sociology

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