Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Moral Society Without God?

Can a Godless society be a good society?

That is the question that a new book by Phil Zuckerman called "Society Without God" asks. It sounds like an interesting book. The author asks questions like:

1. Is the belief in (or fear of, depending on your point of view) God necessary to have a "good" society?

2. What would a nation of atheists look like?

3. Would a godless country lead to lawlessness and immorality?

When I have considered these questions in the past I would think something like "Of course a Godless society couldn't be good. Look at the atheistic experiments in Russia and China and how they turned out. This was one of those assumptions that I usually just took as obvious. Oops.

Yet Zuckerman argues that in answer to his questions we actually don't have to wonder - there is a place where the great majority of people are not only not religious but they can't even be bothered about the questions of faith, God, and life's meaning. Zuckerman spent a year studying Denmark and Sweden, the least religious countries in the world and perhaps even in history, and interviewed people about their religious beliefs (technically, the absence of such beliefs). He published his findings last year in his book.

His main thesis: “First of all, I argue that society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant. This admittedly polemical aspect of my book is aimed primarily at countering the claims of certain outspoken, conservative Christians who regularly argue that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity. Well, it isn’t. Denmark and Sweden are remarkably strong, safe, healthy, moral, and prosperous societies…”

Here's an interesting interview with the author:

In his book Zuckerman is careful not to champion the absence of religious belief as preferable for a society, but he argues strongly that when religious belief (or dogma) is absent, society can proceed along nicely. I find his premise refreshing in that he takes a common belief and turns it on its head. Should a Christian society be more "good" then an atheistic one? Absolutely. Is it always the case? Sadly, no. Rather then discourage us or cause doubt in us, I find it challenging. Belief in God, even passionate belief does not always translate into believers being better people. Religion (belief systems) on their own can never do this. Obedience and a Spirit filled relationship with Jesus Christ marked by the fruit of the spirit is much more important. Zuckerman of course oversimplifies some things and ignores other things but I think he does have an important point to make. More on this later, but in the mean time, what do you think of what this guy says?


Moxymama said...

So, I didn't watch the video yet, but just off the cuff I do think that a moral and just society can exist even in the absence of religion or a belief in God. However, I don't think it would probably be as fulfilling. Obviously, as a Christian I come at this with a bias. However, my aunt is Danish and she and my uncle and cousin have lived in Denmark, she her entire life, and my uncle and cousin for 22 plus years. They and many in their circle have no belief in God but are happy, moral, caring, giving people.....more so than many Christians I know, sadly.

Elayne said...

Looking forward to your book review on this Mark. You WILL do one, right?

TammyIsBlessed said...

I'm not entirely sure which point he's making....

Society without God is civil and pleasant.


Society without a belief in God is civil and pleasant.

Because the thing is - even if few to no people in Sweden believe in God, that doesn't mean that He doesn't exist, and it doesn't mean that He is unable to work. IOW, it's an impossible thing to measure because God IS.