Is the belief in (or fear of, depending on your point of view) God necessary to have a "good" society? What would a nation of atheists look like? Would a godless country lead to lawlessness and immorality?
We actually don't have to wonder - there is a place where the great majority of people are not only not religious - they're can't even be bothered about the questions of faith, God, and life's meaning.
Sociologist Phil Zuckerman spent a year in 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 (Oct 2008) in his book Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment.
TYWKIWDBI has some thought-provoking excerpts from the book:
Here's the premise of [Zuckerman's] book:
“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…”
He's careful not to extol the absence of religious belief as preferable for a society, while arguing strongly that when religious belief (or dogma) is absent, society can crank along just fine. Herewith some excerpts and some of my notes from the book -
p. 6 - “…their overall rates of violent crime – such as murder, aggravated assault, and rape – are among the lowest on earth. Yet the majority of Danes and Swedes do not believe that God is “up there,” keeping diligent tabs on their behavior… In fact, most Danes and Swedes don’t even believe in the very notion of “sin.” Almost nobody in Denmark and Sweden believes that the Bible is divine in origin. And the rate of weekly church attendance in these Nordic nations is the lowest on earth…” [...]
p. 10 – "When they say they are “Christian” they are just referring to a cultural heritage and history. When asked what it means to be Christian, they said 'being kind to others, taking care of the poor and sick, and being a good and moral person.' They almost never mentioned God, Jesus, or the Bible in their explanation of Christian identity. When I specifically asked these Nordic Christians if they believed that Jesus was the Son of God or the Messiah, they nearly always said no – usually without hesitation. Did they believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or that he rose from the grave? Such queries were usually met with genuine laughter – as through the mere asking was rather silly.”
I haven't read it, but will definitely put this fascinating book on the short list of must-reads this year: Link
Here's a fascinating interview with Phil Zuckerman about, amongs other things, the difference of being a religious Christian in America and a cultural Christian in Denmark and the rise of Islam because of the immigration from Africa: