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Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment

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"Silver" Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Religion Category Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"--praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, do "Silver" Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Religion Category Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"--praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, don't pray, and don't give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the "happiness index" and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer. Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are non-religious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers. This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that "society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant."


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"Silver" Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Religion Category Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"--praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, do "Silver" Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Religion Category Before he began his recent travels, it seemed to Phil Zuckerman as if humans all over the globe were "getting religion"--praising deities, performing holy rites, and soberly defending the world from sin. But most residents of Denmark and Sweden, he found, don't worship any god at all, don't pray, and don't give much credence to religious dogma of any kind. Instead of being bastions of sin and corruption, however, as the Christian Right has suggested a godless society would be, these countries are filled with residents who score at the very top of the "happiness index" and enjoy their healthy societies, which boast some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (along with some of the lowest levels of corruption), excellent educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies, outstanding bike paths, and great beer. Zuckerman formally interviewed nearly 150 Danes and Swedes of all ages and educational backgrounds over the course of fourteen months. He was particularly interested in the worldviews of people who live their lives without religious orientation. How do they think about and cope with death? Are they worried about an afterlife? What he found is that nearly all of his interviewees live their lives without much fear of the Grim Reaper or worries about the hereafter. This led him to wonder how and why it is that certain societies are non-religious in a world that seems to be marked by increasing religiosity. Drawing on prominent sociological theories and his own extensive research, Zuckerman ventures some interesting answers. This fascinating approach directly counters the claims of outspoken, conservative American Christians who argue that a society without God would be hell on earth. It is crucial, Zuckerman believes, for Americans to know that "society without God is not only possible, but it can be quite civil and pleasant."

30 review for Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meen

    I always find it telling that the US has the highest religiousity level and yet we also usually have right around the highest poverty level among Western countries. You would think that Jesus' socialistic message would make that different, but NOOOOO. Witness all these religious Joe-Six-Pack-Plumber-Palin people. All the Republicans have to do is say the word "socialism," and they run screaming away from Barack Obama. Pitiful.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John

    How often do we hear that without religion there would be no morals, that society would collapse into hedonism, crime, violence and suicidal chaos? What about the evils of "secular humanism" endlessly repeated by Pat Robertson for 30 years? First, if one spends an hour thinking about where they get there moral code it is readily apparent the get it from society - parents, extended family, friends, teachers, plus it has generally be realized by science that a positive moral code would have obviou How often do we hear that without religion there would be no morals, that society would collapse into hedonism, crime, violence and suicidal chaos? What about the evils of "secular humanism" endlessly repeated by Pat Robertson for 30 years? First, if one spends an hour thinking about where they get there moral code it is readily apparent the get it from society - parents, extended family, friends, teachers, plus it has generally be realized by science that a positive moral code would have obvious advantages under natural selection. But we get our morals from the Bible don't we? Fortunately, no. We rarely take homosexuals to the city limits and stone them to death. We blithely mix cotton and wool, and meat and cheese, the Sabbath is for beer and football and NASCAR. I don't know a single person who owns two coats that would even consider giving his extra to a poor person. Giving no thought to the provision of the day is considered lazy, stupid and practiced only by the mentally ill. Turning the other cheek is immoral and if widely practiced would lead lawlessness and anarchy. But without religion we'd have no morals and society would be a living hell? Again, wrong. Religion is virtually extinct in Sweden and Denmark and they have among the happiest, most contented, prosperous societies on the planet, out-ranking the Jesus-smitten USA in every conceivable measure of societal health. Of the industrialized, first world countries, the US ranks in 20th place or worse for violent crime, infant mortality, health care, science education, math education, language education. We rank at the top of imprisonment rates and divorce rates. Take no pride in US ranking in the 20s for societal health - there are after all only about 25 industrial nations. The Scandinavian nations rank in the top 10 and every scale and in the top 5 of overall happiness and contentment - and that with some damn bleak winters. Sweden is not without crime but a substantial portion of violent crime is done by young male immigrants (read Muslim). Society Without God will not be the best written book you'll ever read, but you will be disabused of the notion of religious inspired morality. For more information do an internet search for Religion and Societal Health. Because it is not really the subject of this book, Zuckerman only spends a short chapter of the "why" question... Why is religion essentially a non-factor in Sweden and Denmark (and rapidly becoming so in England and all of Europe). The author sites reasons from other studies and authors and I really enjoyed the chapter and found it brilliant. Many parts of this book were informative and valuable, but the presentation of lengthy interviews became a bit onerous and I'd would have preferred shorted edits or summaries. The last chapter compares religious attitudes in the US with those of Sweden and Denmark and states a case for why the US has the most religious culture of all the democracies and Scandinavia has the least. I think Zuckerman's reasoning is sound.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jacquie

    As a sociology grad, an American atheist, and the wife of a Swedish atheist, this was a thought-provoking read for me. I didn't need any convincing that individuals and communities can be good without god; the points that were more interesting to me were related to Zuckerman's argument that religious belief is not innate and to his examination of the relationships among religion, culture, government, and politics in both the U.S. and Scandinavia. In the U.S., religion and government are clearly As a sociology grad, an American atheist, and the wife of a Swedish atheist, this was a thought-provoking read for me. I didn't need any convincing that individuals and communities can be good without god; the points that were more interesting to me were related to Zuckerman's argument that religious belief is not innate and to his examination of the relationships among religion, culture, government, and politics in both the U.S. and Scandinavia. In the U.S., religion and government are clearly separated in the Constitution, but America is full of true believers, and politicians feel that they need to cater to this group. In Denmark, religion and government are tied to each other officially (this is no longer true in Sweden), but religious participation is low and politicians wouldn't be caught dead bringing up god on the campaign trail. It's almost shocking how different these political contexts are between the two countries, especially when you consider that their laws could imply exactly the opposite. A lot of the interview excerpts definitely reminded me of things my husband has said in the past and of his general attitude of, "Why do you need a group about not believing in god?" In America religion is the default, and for most people, it's something you need to work yourself out of. It takes intellectual effort to become a nonbeliever. In Scandinavia the default is pretty much the opposite, and reading this book gave me a better perspective on our respective backgrounds and our attitudes toward the need for activism. One criticism is that the interviews could probably have used more editing; there were a lot of "um-m-ms" and "uh-h-hs" and fragmented phrases that made the read a little awkward at points, but I understand that the author was likely trying to reproduce his subjects' responses as accurately as possible. I could go on about the interesting issues raised in this book, but I'll conclude by saying there are a lot of them and more research on the topic will definitely be useful and engaging!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I was really amazed/amused by some of the things Zucherman reveals in this book. Reading about the ideas that the Danes he interviewed had about religion was so heartwarming it gave me a small bit of faith in humanity. It was interesting to look at the factors that may have contributed to the secular nature of these societies but by far it was most interesting to see the excerpts from the personal interviews he did. It was funny to see people over and over again say, when asked if they where Chr I was really amazed/amused by some of the things Zucherman reveals in this book. Reading about the ideas that the Danes he interviewed had about religion was so heartwarming it gave me a small bit of faith in humanity. It was interesting to look at the factors that may have contributed to the secular nature of these societies but by far it was most interesting to see the excerpts from the personal interviews he did. It was funny to see people over and over again say, when asked if they where Christian, "Oh yeah, I'm a christian, I would say yes." and then when asked if they believed in god or if Jesus was divine say "No, nothing silly like that." Also interesting was the Danish friend he interviewed in Denmark who was a believer but then when interviewed two years later after having lived and gone to Church in the U.S. for several months saying, "I'm going home at least an agnostic, maybe an atheist"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Society without God by Phil Zuckerman Society without God is a social study of how secular societies such as Denmark and Sweden are not only essentially "godless" but thrive as societies. Social scientist Phil Zuckerman does a wonderful job of capturing the cultures of these Scandinavian nations and provides interesting insight on how they have become secular. Through a series of interviews and references to social studies the author provides strong support for his social theories and contrasts Society without God by Phil Zuckerman Society without God is a social study of how secular societies such as Denmark and Sweden are not only essentially "godless" but thrive as societies. Social scientist Phil Zuckerman does a wonderful job of capturing the cultures of these Scandinavian nations and provides interesting insight on how they have become secular. Through a series of interviews and references to social studies the author provides strong support for his social theories and contrasts that with United States. The book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. Society without God?, 2. Jens, Anne and Christian, 3. Fear of Death and the Meaning of Life, 4. Lene, Sonny, and Gitte, 5. Being Secular, 6. Why?, 7. Dorthe, Laura, and Johanne, 8. Cultural Religion, and 9. Back to the USA. Positives: 1. Fascinating social study that focuses on the religious beliefs or in this case the lack thereof of, of mainly two Scandinavian nations: Denmark and Sweden. 2. As accessible a book as you will find. Well written, to the point and interesting. 3. Even though the book is comprised of many interviews, the author provides compelling supporting data based on social studies. The Kindle links work great and are worthwhile. 4. Completely debunks any notion that a society requires the belief in gods to prosper and thrive. The author provides key social indicators to back up his assertions. In fact, demonstrating that nations like Denmark and Sweden are models of social health. 5. Absolutely love when authors take you inside other nations and cultures. Fascinating look at how Scandinavians live and why they believe what they believe. 6. Provides the best explanation that I have read regarding why secularization worked in Scandinavian nations and not in other nations. That alone is worth the price of the book. 7. So much valuable social information throughout book. 8. Skepticism in a rational way. I like that. 9. Some interviews are so interesting, I don't want to spoil it but rest assured that some things will baffle you. 10. A friendly, conversational tone throughout the book. It's the kind of book you can give to anyone. 11. Educational. Provides interesting compelling theories of why people do not believe. Negatives: 1. Focuses primarily on Scandinavian nations, not much on Japan, France or other secular nations. 2. A couple of times, the author failed to name the best country in some of the social indicators of well being, it was Finland. I had to research on my own. 3. I don't know about the book but the Kindle version lacked illustration or charts that would have been helpful. 4. There is a little fluff in the book. But it doesn't deter from the main points. I don't think that the author's explanations regarding ancient Scandinavians' beliefs was up to par but I'm nitpicking. Overall this book was a real treat for me. I enjoy books that take me to other cultures and one that is about interesting topics. A fascinating topic, that was written in a conversational tone and that can be read in a short period of time. This is a book worth reading, I highly recommend it and I will be referencing it in the future

  6. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    you know, i am not sure what i was expecting, and i guess it's my fault. i should have seen this inevitably would not hold my interest, seeing as how i hold any sociological study to be utterly boring, filled with mind-numbing statistics and flat stories the authors pull from their daily lives to make SOME sort of point, a point that was already made in their head..... but seriously. this book is horrible, and i have no pateince for it: "god, sweden and denmark are so great. though they're among t you know, i am not sure what i was expecting, and i guess it's my fault. i should have seen this inevitably would not hold my interest, seeing as how i hold any sociological study to be utterly boring, filled with mind-numbing statistics and flat stories the authors pull from their daily lives to make SOME sort of point, a point that was already made in their head..... but seriously. this book is horrible, and i have no pateince for it: "god, sweden and denmark are so great. though they're among the least religious naitons in the world, their streets still bustle with rainbows and gum drop smiles. instead of feces, scandanavians shit daisies! and all without the slightest predilection for a deity-based existence. correlation does not mean causation, of course. here, let me spend the next five pages listing percentages. mind if i make all my points by asking rhetorical questions? did i mention how i LOVE sweden?" seriously. stop. i made it to page 32.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    In his book Society without God, Phil Zuckerman challenges an assertion made by religious fundamentalists: that religion is the only thing that keeps humanity from falling into moral and ethical bankruptcy. Zuckerman takes a job teaching for a year in Denmark, one of the most secular nations on the planet, and finds that rather than being rife with moral depravity, corruption, crime and instability, its citizens actually rank among the happiest and most peaceful according to a variety of UN stat In his book Society without God, Phil Zuckerman challenges an assertion made by religious fundamentalists: that religion is the only thing that keeps humanity from falling into moral and ethical bankruptcy. Zuckerman takes a job teaching for a year in Denmark, one of the most secular nations on the planet, and finds that rather than being rife with moral depravity, corruption, crime and instability, its citizens actually rank among the happiest and most peaceful according to a variety of UN statistics. I took copious notes while reading, as there are many quotes and anecdotes worth remembering -- an excellent and refreshing read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam Lewis

    The Danes and Swedes live in countries that consistently rank among the world’s best in terms of social conditions. They have low crime and high economic equality. They have some of the lowest rates of infant mortality and highest life expectancy. They have one of the most educated populations on earth and as well as highest levels of happiness. They also are some of the most secular societies in existence today. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman spent over a year there interviewing and trying to ascert The Danes and Swedes live in countries that consistently rank among the world’s best in terms of social conditions. They have low crime and high economic equality. They have some of the lowest rates of infant mortality and highest life expectancy. They have one of the most educated populations on earth and as well as highest levels of happiness. They also are some of the most secular societies in existence today. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman spent over a year there interviewing and trying to ascertain how and why this is. His findings and explication of this culture would shock many believers who think that society and morality is founded upon religion. But this isn’t some simplistic screed saying that secularism begets a heavenly society for by no means is correlation necessarily causation. Nor are these countries without their share of problems (as is documented in the book). However, Zuckerman delves deeply into the multi-faceted and complex web of interactions that have led to such a very good society and his answers are many. They have a welfare state with free healthcare, virtually no poverty, and some of the least disparity between the rich and poor. They have had a different historical relationship with religion. Their state religion of Lutheranism has, like a lazy monopoly, failed to market its message (contrast that with the constant religious advertising we see in the US). And the explanation I found to be the strongest – their culture has never been perceived as at risk. (Religious belief strengthens to solidify in-group solidarity.) There are many topics covered at length and breadth in this wonderful book including the phenomenon of “cultural religion” where rituals and festivals are still carried out under religious guise but only a minority of people actually believe the supernatural content such as that the Danes and Swedes are fond of (compare Jewish people). However, that said, I must point out one glaring omission in the book – an explanation for the source of secular morality. Indeed, it is a, if not the, central point to the book that a society can be secular and moral. This topic is certainly dealt with, but only in a superficial manner. Many of the interviewees consistently say that their cultural religion is a good thing in that it is their “ethical frame” (158). Following much of the interview discourse, Zuckerman often reflects back on what was said and offers analysis. On the roots of this, though, he is silent. In my estimation, morality is hardly ever religiously derived, even if people report it so and even if they don’t believe in the supernatural portions of it. People start with their ethical judgments and in an ad hoc fashion justify them with religious texts. It is my understanding that morality is like grammar (read Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds) and that it operates almost unconsciously. And like grammar, most people can perform it, practice it, and be competent in it but they couldn’t break it down into the deep syntactic structures or in the case of moral judgments identify the source. This isn’t to say that morality is wholly biological but that it is at least almost wholly biologically primed. This is where religion comes in. The fact is that it is almost always the only available explicit description of morality is why even these secular Scandinavians seem to still fall under its sway in one area. That Zuckerman left this discussion out is probably one of intended scope for the book, but it is one that I would have liked to see. All in all the book is a lucid antithesis to the groundless and fear-mongering assertion that secularism invites societal chaos. But “Nor is religion a necessary ingredient for a healthy, peaceful, prosperous, and […] deeply good society” (183).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This was a good look at two very non religious democratic countries, Sweden and Denmark. It shows that those countries are not immoral and actually are more moral, accepting, non judgmental and so called "Christian" than the US which is known to be the largest religious nation in a democratic state.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    A nice look at a couple of kinder, gentler nations (Sweden, Denmark). Difficult, very qualitative, topic in many ways but the author does a good job I think of exploring all sides, knowing that there are no definitive answers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tricia

    Definitely a bit dry and I feel like I read it too late. Lots of info that I was already familiar with but may have been more unique 10 years ago. The Danish perspective that it's scary how much US politicians say their religion influences their decisions was interesting - so worth just reading the last chapter!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    As an atheist/secular humanist, I am very receptive to Zuckerman's thesis (i.e., that functional, healthy societies can exist without belief in deity or religion) and my imagination is fired (and, frankly, my envy stoked, as it were) by the idea that the Scandinavian countries are living representations of that thesis. Even so, I was frustrated by Zuckerman's approach--meandering excerpts from interviews with individuals, interspersed with high-minded personal anecdotes, neither of which I found As an atheist/secular humanist, I am very receptive to Zuckerman's thesis (i.e., that functional, healthy societies can exist without belief in deity or religion) and my imagination is fired (and, frankly, my envy stoked, as it were) by the idea that the Scandinavian countries are living representations of that thesis. Even so, I was frustrated by Zuckerman's approach--meandering excerpts from interviews with individuals, interspersed with high-minded personal anecdotes, neither of which I found horribly convincing, however much I agree with the sentiments expressed. In fact, the most useful part of the book for me was the introduction, where Zuckerman presents the results from survey after survey, all of which demonstrate the tenuous toehold religion has in Sweden and Denmark, as well as listing statistic after statistic showing both nations to be among the healthiest cultures and most prosperous states in the world. In the end, I gave up. I'm glad this book exists--there are definitely those who should study its introduction, and the descriptions of life in Denmark--but I didn't have the patience for it. And it's a bad sign if an author can't convince someone who is already convinced.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    I just read a review of this book that nearly guarentees my interest in reading this book (from Louis Bayard's Salon.com review): "To a certain jaded sensibility, what makes Scandinavia particularly magical is what it lacks. "There is no national anti-gay rights movement," writes Zuckerman, "there are no 'Jesus fish' imprinted on advertisements in the yellow pages, there are no school boards or school administrators who publicly doubt the evidence for human evolution ... there are no religiously I just read a review of this book that nearly guarentees my interest in reading this book (from Louis Bayard's Salon.com review): "To a certain jaded sensibility, what makes Scandinavia particularly magical is what it lacks. "There is no national anti-gay rights movement," writes Zuckerman, "there are no 'Jesus fish' imprinted on advertisements in the yellow pages, there are no school boards or school administrators who publicly doubt the evidence for human evolution ... there are no religiously inspired 'abstinence only' sex education curricula ... there are no parental groups lobbying schools and city councils to remove Harry Potter books from school and public libraries ... there are no restaurants that include Bible verses on their menus and placemats, there are no 'Faith Nights' at national sporting events ..." I want to move there now.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    An interesting and thought provoking read. I do feel that the author missed the mark on a few areas of what Christians believe and the assumption that Christians believe it blindly, or those who do believe are lesser educated. That is actually not the case for many I know and the amount of studying done by Christians is seriously underestimated. There were a few comments that frankly were assumptions on his part (one being a story he told about a person in debt at a bank seeking help; his commen An interesting and thought provoking read. I do feel that the author missed the mark on a few areas of what Christians believe and the assumption that Christians believe it blindly, or those who do believe are lesser educated. That is actually not the case for many I know and the amount of studying done by Christians is seriously underestimated. There were a few comments that frankly were assumptions on his part (one being a story he told about a person in debt at a bank seeking help; his comments about the people there thinking nothing of the banker's suggestions were assumptive; as a Christian I would not have agreed with that advice, but as a private person I would not have reacted to it, so the assumption that my lack of reaction to it means I would have agreed with it is flat out wrong). A thought provoking read, if at times inaccurate, nonetheless.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    The US may be weirdly religious compared to the other industrialized democracies, but even in Western Europe, Denmark and Sweden stand out for their lack of religiosity. They're not atheist utopias, but they're as close as you can get in the world today. Zuckerman, an American social scientist, had 149 formal interviews on the topic of religion with these Scandinavians (in addition to countless informal talks) while he lived there. The result is this fascinating book, about what people in these The US may be weirdly religious compared to the other industrialized democracies, but even in Western Europe, Denmark and Sweden stand out for their lack of religiosity. They're not atheist utopias, but they're as close as you can get in the world today. Zuckerman, an American social scientist, had 149 formal interviews on the topic of religion with these Scandinavians (in addition to countless informal talks) while he lived there. The result is this fascinating book, about what people in these very secular societies actually believe. (The interviews are put in context by a number of surveys, because although Zuckerman interviews a wide variety of ages, occupations, educations, incomes, urbans/rurals, his interview sample is still non-random.) For the American atheist, one of the most interesting things is how indifferent to religion the vast majority of Danes and Swedes are. As Zuckerman says, "Benign indifference" is definitely not an orientation to religion that I have experienced much in the United States. In America, even when a person is nonreligious, he or she usually has quite a bit to say on the topic. Most nonreligious Americans can articulate what it is about religion that they don't like... Many nonreligious Americans are also somewhat anti-religious - they generally find religion distasteful, dogmatic, hypocritical, ignorant, or threatening. Not Danes and Swedes. The default position in Denmark and Sweden is to not be religious. It's not something that requires work. Most people don't have loss-of-faith stories the way many American atheists do (many people interviewed just say that they may have believed or tried to believe as kids, but then just "grew up"). Religion (at least the weak-tea state Lutheranism) isn't threatening to Danish or Swedish atheists either. That's because it really isn't threatening - it's not threatening to destroy their school curricula, dominate their political discourse, or any of the other awful things American religions so often do. At one point, a man relates a story of a coworker with whom he'd been becoming friends. After a few drinks one night, the coworker ashamedly admits to believing in God, and expresses hope that the man won't think less of him. My initial reaction was Schadenfreude, followed by the quintessential American reaction - how awful that this guy feels religious intolerance. Then followed by more reflection, and the decision that this is fine. Persecution, hiring discrimination, threats - all completely wrong. But mockery? If an adult in the US admitted to believing in the Tooth Fairy, they'd be made fun of, and rightfully so. How absolutely refreshing that the Danes think likewise about God. One of the most powerful sections is where Zuckerman finds a man he interviewed in Denmark after he'd moved to the US, and been living here for 6 months. The man was religious in Denmark, and believed in God. 6 months in the US changed his mind. As he says, People here [in the US:] are much more religious Christian-wise than in Denmark. To me, you should base your society or your culture on logic and science and things you can prove and things you can disprove, or whatever. But here, people just believe that Jesus is the Son of God and he is God and that he did miracles and all that stuff. And, for me, that doesn't really comply with a scientific and logic-based society. And that puzzled me because I thought the United States would be more like Denmark - believing in, you know, rationality... I had the notion that, okay, Republicans today are very religious, but for rational-thinking people like myself, you can always vote for the Democrats because they are not into this religious movement or whatever. But... it's just scary - that even the Democrats are so religious. So if I was to live here I would have a problem voting for a president, because I don't want a religious leader... It's okay to be religious, but if you base your judgments of how to rule your country on religious beliefs, then you can get in a lot of trouble. One thing that helps these Scandinavians be so nonreligious is that they have a "cultural religion". They have churches they can go to for the ceremonies of life: birth, marriage, death. It might be that no one there (not even the pastor) believes in God, but that's not the point. The point is community, ritual, a cultural framework. It's something atheists in the US largely lack, precisely because we have to fight so hard against religion. Living in Denmark or Sweden sounds so incredibly relaxing, precisely because there is no religious bombardment, and there's nothing to fight against.

  16. 5 out of 5

    kelly

    An important note: The author is NOT arguing that high levels of societal health are CAUSED by low levels of religiosity. His point is merely to counter the claim by some conservative Christians that a godless society is an evil, immoral one. This is clearly not the case in Sweden and Denmark, as his sociological data shows. Random, interesting things I learned that aren't mentioned in the description of this book: * It's acceptable for a church priest/pastor to be atheist in Sweden. * Almost no on An important note: The author is NOT arguing that high levels of societal health are CAUSED by low levels of religiosity. His point is merely to counter the claim by some conservative Christians that a godless society is an evil, immoral one. This is clearly not the case in Sweden and Denmark, as his sociological data shows. Random, interesting things I learned that aren't mentioned in the description of this book: * It's acceptable for a church priest/pastor to be atheist in Sweden. * Almost no one in Denmark or Sweden professes belief in God, yet almost all are reluctant or refuse to call themselves atheist. There tend to be more non-religious people than anti-religious. * ~80-90% of Danes and Swedes are non-believing and yet that same percentage identify as Christian. This is an example of cultural religion, in which people identify with historically religious traditions, and engaging in ostensibly religious practices without truly believing in the supernatural content thereof. * Some do take an interest in the paranormal/supernatural phenomena, but this isn't considered to have any relation to religion. * On the whole (not just in Scandinavia), women tend to be more religious than men. * The U.S. is the most religious modern Western democracy. Some possible reasons: - We are a nation of immigrants, and immigration correlates to high levels of religiosity. - Religion has a free market, rather than a single monopoly (as the National Church of Denmark has) resulting in stagnation and lack of interest. - Religion in the US has been a bottom-up grassroots effort, making it more likely to survive than the top-down, forced religion implemented by leaders in Scandinavia throughout its history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Barraza

    I have never been in either Denmark or Sweden and I am not sure on how the societies are there, but from my perception I wish all societies were like that. Religion is an parasite that goes around parasitizing all aspects of society, and I am not talking about just one religion in particular, I am talking about the whole concept of religion from all religions perspective, where it controls many aspects of government all the way down to individual levels influencing your eating diet, you intimacy I have never been in either Denmark or Sweden and I am not sure on how the societies are there, but from my perception I wish all societies were like that. Religion is an parasite that goes around parasitizing all aspects of society, and I am not talking about just one religion in particular, I am talking about the whole concept of religion from all religions perspective, where it controls many aspects of government all the way down to individual levels influencing your eating diet, you intimacy, you working on saturdays, and many people leaving their work, homework, exams, sick relatives and all other aspect of life in the hands of God without actually trying to find a solution to everything in a rational way. Religion is just bad and I really wish the rest of societies were just like Denmark and Sweden societies are.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    As I was reading this book, it occurred to me time and again how much my viewpoint gelled with that of the Scandinavian societies of Denmark and Sweden. Here in the U.S. we are constantly bombarded by religion, not only from those around us, but also from our politicians and news programs. Such views in the societies outlined in this volume would be viewed with skepticism and the persons expressing them, quite irrational. How I would love to live in a place where Science and Reason hold more sway As I was reading this book, it occurred to me time and again how much my viewpoint gelled with that of the Scandinavian societies of Denmark and Sweden. Here in the U.S. we are constantly bombarded by religion, not only from those around us, but also from our politicians and news programs. Such views in the societies outlined in this volume would be viewed with skepticism and the persons expressing them, quite irrational. How I would love to live in a place where Science and Reason hold more sway than Superstition and Faith. Where social equality and a lack of guns are the norm, rather than the violent and supposedly "Christian" nation I live in.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicole Cushing

    The title "Society Without God" is a little deceptive. This is NOT another entry in New Atheist literature. It is, rather, a work in academic sociology -- particularly a work of comparative religion -- in which the author interviews many people in Denmark (and some from Sweden) about their religious beliefs and spirituality. If the reader is willing to let go of the expectation conveyed by the title, and go with the academic sociology read, they will come away with some satisfaction.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil Whittall

    What does a country look like if you take faith out of it? What kind of world would it be for those that live there and how did this come about? These are some of the questions that sociologist Phil Zuckerman tries to answer in A society without God. The book is the fruit of a year and half living in Denmark and interviewing hundreds of Danes and Swedes about why they, mostly, do not believe in God. It makes for fascinating reading. Zuckerman convincingly demonstrates that most Scandinavians no lo What does a country look like if you take faith out of it? What kind of world would it be for those that live there and how did this come about? These are some of the questions that sociologist Phil Zuckerman tries to answer in A society without God. The book is the fruit of a year and half living in Denmark and interviewing hundreds of Danes and Swedes about why they, mostly, do not believe in God. It makes for fascinating reading. Zuckerman convincingly demonstrates that most Scandinavians no longer have an active concept of sin, do not particularly fear death even though they believe there is nothing after, and that science has convincingly disproved the case for religion and are almost completely ignorant about Jesus. He investigates the Scandinavians slightly puzzling attachment to cultural religion and shows that despite all this the Nordic countries remain pleasant places to live, filled with mostly pleasant people who are mostly content with their lives. This final insight comes as no great shock to a European but to an American agnostic is something of a revelation. It is the author’s own backdrop of cultural religion, only not the mild innocuous Lutheranism of Scandinavia but the tub-thumping fundamentalism of American Christianity. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others are liberally quoted in the early parts to establish the narrative that godly America has about godless Europe. Ann Coulter is quoted having “written in one of her best-selling books that societies which fail to grasp God’s significance are headed toward slavery, genocide, and bestiality and that when Darwinian/evolutionary theory is widely accepted in a given society, all morality is abandoned.” Zuckerman sets out to prove that this is indeed as idiotic as it sounds. However, in doing so Zuckerman falls repeatedly short in his analysis – he regularly assigns credit to the current state of Scandinavia to their lack of belief even though he shows that Danes and Swedes proudly believe that their society is Christian and that they behave Christianly (even if they don’t believe in God), so that they have low inequality, low crime, buses that run on time, healthy respectful and generally honest. What will be interesting is to see what kind of changes are happening to Swedish society as decisions and policies are made that are, by and large, no longer formed by Judeo-Christian values and morality but the morality of modern secularism and humanism. One would expect the health service to remain good and the buses still to run whatever the case. The one area that is seen most clearly, of course is in personal morality and here the facts are stark. As Zuckerman says: Scandinavians are among the most approving/accepting people’s in the world when it comes to premarital sex. Danes and Swedes are world leaders in supporting abortion rights. Danes and Swedes are world leaders when it comes to accepting/approving homosexuality. (I would add world leaders in divorce rates although the author doesn’t mention it). To some of course these facts only add to the appeal of Scandinavia and certainly in western eyes give these small countries very significant cultural power. Zuckerman also operates under two broad assumptions about religion that it is first a response to the fact of our own morality. We are all, so the theory goes, scared of dying so we make up religion that has an afterlife to give us comfort and hope. The second theory is that religion gives us the answers to the big questions, why are we here? Where are we going? What’s my purpose in life? All the questions that anyone who has ever run an Alpha course will be familiar with. The problem Zuckerman found was that none of the people he interviewed were asking those questions. Life was what you made of it, love your family, enjoy the time you have, be kind and then you die without regrets. That basically sums up the view on life. Fascinating. As a sociologist, Zuckerman tries to steer clear of questions of truth and mostly does, although it is quite apparent what the author himself thinks is ‘not true’. What was more interesting was the complete lack of rigour the interviewees themselves had in approaching the question of, ‘is what I think true?’ There was just a massive basic acceptance that no one believes in God because there is no God because science has shown the universe to be very old and not made in 6 days a few thousand years ago. Agnosticism is rational and reasonable, faith is irrational and unreasonable. That’s their narrative and they have faced almost zero pushback from the church. It is after all very possible to be both a priest and an atheist here. The reason for this is that there is a second stream that flows into Nordic life and that is, that faith is something so deeply personal that no one ever talks about it. Ever. This huge silence has led to the almost total disappearance of genuine faith from most people’s lives. They may never know that they know genuine believers because no one talks about what they believe. Religion is not a hot topic it is a non-topic. As one Dane is quoted as saying, “Danes are very open. You can talk about sexuality and you can talk about a lot of problems. But when it comes to what you believe, we just never talk about it. Even with very good friends, it’s very seldom you share those things. That’s a bit funny, I think, but I think it is—it is very private.” Zuckerman gives four main reasons why the Nordic countries evidence such high rates of unbelief: Lazy monopolies. The Lutheran church has had state sanctioned taxes for hundreds of years, giving them a dominance in cultural and civic society and has no sizeable competition. With no need to get people in through the doors to keep the lights on, most priests haven’t bothered very much while slowly becoming ever more liberal. As the church has increasingly mirrored the society around them, there has been decreasingly less reason to join. Secure societies. Essentially the Nordic countries are among the richest, safest, cleanest, best governed and generally amenable places to live in all the world there is no push from circumstances to believe in God. If people believe in God when life is hard then no wonder people don’t believe here, life isn’t hard at all. No disease, massive material comforts and long-life ahead of everyone. “Life in Scandinavia may be a lot of things, but precarious simply isn’t one of them.” Working women. The Nordic countries are the most egalitarian in the world occupying the top four places and all five being in the top ten. Callum Brown has argued that it is the women that have historically kep religion alive in the home but as they have returned to the workplace their concerns and energies have become work focused and their interest in religion declined. The correlation (although not causation) is significant. Maybe they’ve never been very religious. Perhaps faith was always imposed from above and never really a matter of the heart. Well, maybe. Some general observations: Scandinavia is a great place to live although perhaps not quite the utopia that Mr Zuckerman sometimes gets all misty-eyed about. Cultural religion is very strong here, the church is very liberal and the alternatives small or invisible. However society is changing, the consumerism and narcissism of modern life is proving to be wearing and empty. Scandinavians are prodigious users of antidepressants which seems at odds with the fact that it’s such a great place to live. Faith isn’t dying, not even here, and in fact through immigration (there are 400,000 Muslims in Sweden out a population of 9 million) that in many places it is re-emerging as factor in society even as the state churches continue their decline to oblivion. Scandinavians avoid extremes of almost anything. Few are real believers and few are committed atheists. That’s too strong, too negative, too extreme. Zuckerman ends his work with the story of Morten, a Dane who oddly enough believes in God, goes to America and comes back an agnostic, thoroughly scared off by the religion he sees while loving the strong social fabric and community life of some of the churches he went to. A Society without God is a must read for any church planter working in Scandinavia and probably for that matter western Europe or northern Europe as many of the trends here are played out in other countries and the difference is by degree. It is given me considerable insight into the challenges posed by secularism and some of the opportunities that remain. One thing is certain, the renewal of Christ filled faith in these northern lands is the work of generations and will require hard labour, much prayer and perseverance in church planting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marije

    A well-written sociological study of religion in Denmark and Sweden, as experienced by someone from the United States. Zuckermann isn't afraid to wonder and speculate freely, and to let his personal preference for the Scandinavian secularity shine through. He alternates sociological and historical theories of religion with personal observations with transcripts from interviews he conducted with hundreds of Danes and Swedes (149 fomal, semi-structured interviews and countless spontanuous conversa A well-written sociological study of religion in Denmark and Sweden, as experienced by someone from the United States. Zuckermann isn't afraid to wonder and speculate freely, and to let his personal preference for the Scandinavian secularity shine through. He alternates sociological and historical theories of religion with personal observations with transcripts from interviews he conducted with hundreds of Danes and Swedes (149 fomal, semi-structured interviews and countless spontanuous conversations on trains, at playgrounds and cafeteria). I do agree with one of the interviewees that Zuckerman doesn't recognize the more subtle and implicit forms of religiousity that play a role in Western European societies. His enthousiasm sometimes reminds me of that of a child in a candy store; his reaction to the change from explicitly religious US to the safe, calm, and socially secure societies of Scandinavia is truly endearing. When you start reading it takes him quite some time to admit that no, Denmark isn't completely like paradise... but it sure comes close. This is, I think, the main critique one can have on this book: it's not neutral. Moreover, Zuckerman's method of recruting respondents (convinience sample) cannot be seen as a representative sample (as he admits himself). I also think that the language barrier has prevented him from grasping the subtleties that come with explaining what you belief and how you experience your religion or spirituality. These are questions that are difficult to answer in your own tongue, let alone in another language. Zuckerman balances this lack of objectivity with his knowledge of statistics. The figures on worldwide non-belief, atheism, secularity, social security, gender equality, education and other factors that shape society, lend a convincing air of factuality and relevance to this study. This book is valuable as it is a genuine attempt to give insight in organic secular societies. Studies like this are important because a significant part of the world population believes that without religion, a society is lost in anarchy, despair and sin. Although of course it remains to be seen whether these people will appreciate the secular societies as Zuckerman does.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Manday

    This book is poor science, even from a qualitative methods perspective. Too frequently there is a theory or proposition put forward as if its fact when something at its base is erred. The biggest challenge the book faces is purpose. Its supposed purpose is to prove in the face of increasing religiousity around the world that societies without religion can be functional and moral. The problem with this is two-fold. First, the world is NOT in general becoming more religious. While the US is the mo This book is poor science, even from a qualitative methods perspective. Too frequently there is a theory or proposition put forward as if its fact when something at its base is erred. The biggest challenge the book faces is purpose. Its supposed purpose is to prove in the face of increasing religiousity around the world that societies without religion can be functional and moral. The problem with this is two-fold. First, the world is NOT in general becoming more religious. While the US is the most religious developed country, it is less religious than it used to be on average. Second, it takes about two pages of statistics to prove a secular society can be moral, not 180 pages of interview. This book could have been much better. If he had chosen to focus the book around some theory about the way secularity can manifest, or about the cultural relativity of religion, or anything like that, instead of about U.S. politics, the interviews could have been put to quite good use. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and while there are interesting stories in the book, its not a good read overall.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Izlinda

    This book was rather repetitive. I don't know if that's just the way sociology texts are when it's heavily based on case studies... Sometimes I felt like tossing the book down on the table when he starts excerpting interviews that basically say the same thing. I also notice an end note that cited Wikipedia, the Danish version. Still! My professors would scalp us if we did such a thing, and this is an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College at the time of publication. The chapter that This book was rather repetitive. I don't know if that's just the way sociology texts are when it's heavily based on case studies... Sometimes I felt like tossing the book down on the table when he starts excerpting interviews that basically say the same thing. I also notice an end note that cited Wikipedia, the Danish version. Still! My professors would scalp us if we did such a thing, and this is an associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College at the time of publication. The chapter that really excited me was the one talking about cultural religion. I think it's something that's very common, more than people realize. He mentioned a colleague of his who was a Malaysian-raised Muslim who admits to be culturally Muslim but not believing in any of the supernatural things. A few of my former classmates were like that, but didn't say it so explicitly. Or would say they were Muslims while having premarital sex and drink alcohol...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I think that this book was a dissertation that was evolved into a non-fiction mass market book. I read the introduction which was interesting, highlighting how the Danes and the Swedes are national populations that are the happiest on the planet, have the amongst the lowest major-crime rates, and are a society that pretty much exists without the presence of (a) god. I found the academic style of writing a bit tedious (a ongoing narrative literature review), but the facts were interesting. I skim I think that this book was a dissertation that was evolved into a non-fiction mass market book. I read the introduction which was interesting, highlighting how the Danes and the Swedes are national populations that are the happiest on the planet, have the amongst the lowest major-crime rates, and are a society that pretty much exists without the presence of (a) god. I found the academic style of writing a bit tedious (a ongoing narrative literature review), but the facts were interesting. I skimmed through the other chapters and found them to be deeper reiterations of the introduction, so I left it at that. Basically, the main theme was that people can be moral, ethical, nice, successful, and crime-free with out the presence of God (and related religion) guiding them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    C.

    Totally fascinating look at how the citizens of some secular non religious countries,especially the Scandinavian ones have the highest quality of life on this planet. The author focused mostly on Denmark and Sweden.They have a welfare state with free healthcare, virtually no poverty, low crime rate, and some of the least disparity between the rich and poor. Life there is certainly nothing like how religious leaders like Pat Robertson,and Jerry Falwell said a society without God would be like! The a Totally fascinating look at how the citizens of some secular non religious countries,especially the Scandinavian ones have the highest quality of life on this planet. The author focused mostly on Denmark and Sweden.They have a welfare state with free healthcare, virtually no poverty, low crime rate, and some of the least disparity between the rich and poor. Life there is certainly nothing like how religious leaders like Pat Robertson,and Jerry Falwell said a society without God would be like! The author was in Denmark 31 days before he even saw his first cop there!Yet violent crime is very rare there.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gonçalves

    There is a misconception, largely spread out through ignorance, that atheists are unsatisfied with life, because supposedly God serves as the prime motivator to fulfill happiness. Phil Zuckerman knows about this flawed ideia, and goes on to argument against it brilliantly. Predominantly atheistic societies are happier than the rest: it's a fact even the most fervent, pious individuals cannot deny.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Quite the nice tonic against the typical theist claim that, without religion, society would collapse into some amoral anarchy. Of particular interest is his discussion of "Cultural Religion" in the pre-final chapter, which argues for the distinction between cultural rituals with the trappings of religion and actual belief in a monotheistic god of the type described in the Torah/Bible/Koran.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Interesting account of the author's experience in Denmark and Sweden. But not a lot of synthesis or historical context. Mostly just interviews with Danish citizens. But the thesis is robust: an areligious society can be a very orderly, moral and community oriented society, contrary to popular American sentiment.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Roo Phillips

    Phil Zuckerman is a social scientist that studies religion, secularity, morality, etc., and their effects on society. In Society Without God, Zuckerman specifically analyzes the religiosity of two of the most irreligious countries on the planet, Denmark and Sweden. He moved to Denmark for a year to personally conduct 149 interviews to collect enough data to write this book. The emphasis is really on the people of those interviews, and the way they answer his questions. This is a great book for g Phil Zuckerman is a social scientist that studies religion, secularity, morality, etc., and their effects on society. In Society Without God, Zuckerman specifically analyzes the religiosity of two of the most irreligious countries on the planet, Denmark and Sweden. He moved to Denmark for a year to personally conduct 149 interviews to collect enough data to write this book. The emphasis is really on the people of those interviews, and the way they answer his questions. This is a great book for getting insight into the minds of the people of Denmark and Sweden, how they think about life, the things they are concerned about, what they aren’t worried about, and so on. More than anything, this book gives you a sense of who the Danes and Swedes are at a more philosophical level. Zuckerman does touch on the usual statistics that correlate irreligious countries (Japan, Scandinavia, UK, etc.) with high health, happiness, contentment, and success. Likewise, the more religious countries (USA, Egypt, Ghana, etc.) that correlate strongly with poverty, crime, and other challenges. Zuckerman does NOT suggest that there is a causal connection between low religion, low poverty, and high happiness. However, his research (and others) does refute the reverse claim that low religion causes crime, poverty, and degradation of society (as recently suggested by Ben Shapiro and AG William Barr). In the end, these statistics and correlations are not the focus of this book. Getting a better sense of who the Scandinavian people are is what I came away with.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeffy Joseph

    I have read books where authors attempt to demolish the concepts of god and religion using philosophical and scientific arguments. Zuckerman, rather than attempting to do so, attempts to envision a world without god and its implications on the society. The nearest countries he found to match his requirements were Denmark and Sweden. From the introduction: "If there is an earthly heaven for secular folk, contemporary Denmark and Sweden may very well be it: quaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful I have read books where authors attempt to demolish the concepts of god and religion using philosophical and scientific arguments. Zuckerman, rather than attempting to do so, attempts to envision a world without god and its implications on the society. The nearest countries he found to match his requirements were Denmark and Sweden. From the introduction: "If there is an earthly heaven for secular folk, contemporary Denmark and Sweden may very well be it: quaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful forests, lonely beaches, healthy democracies, among the lowest violent crime rates in the world, the lowest levels of corruption in the world, excellent educational systems, innovative architecture, strong economies, well-supported arts, successful entrepreneurship, clean hospitals, delicious beer, free healthcare, maverick film-making, egalitarian social policies, sleek design, comfortable bike paths—and not much faith in God." Religious folks always argue that religion is the backbone of a just society. They believe that without religious belief, the world will descent into chaos. Zuckerman, through his extensive survey, tells us it need not be that way. A well-researched book doesn't question your beliefs (if you are pious) but shows you that it's o.k. if you don't. Rather than convincing you with logic, he gives a real world example. And he is careful not to interpret misinterpret correlation as causation.

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