Can a Godless Society be a "Good" Society?

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:

[YouTube Clip]

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bush used the term faith based initiatives talking about Iraq justifying an unconstitutional war to kill people because they’re god is not they’re god so killing innocent people in the name of god (any god) now if we were a godless society would we be in the mess we are in now and i am an atheist but i cant deny that for those who take god simply as a moral standard of living can be useful to society but its when people take it too damn far and start to force they’re beliefs on to others (including they’re own children) that believing in god becomes harmful to society! In America we have a pretty high rate of strong believing christians yet we have one of the highest rates of rape murder and drug use why is that if believing in god makes you a better person? Those numbers would be quite different! so my question to you isliving in a god fearing society better or worse?
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Several posters claimed that morality originated within religion. I would claim that religion assimiliated morality as a result of seeing its effectiveness in unity a society (natuaral consequences). I wrote an article about it at
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So many people have so many different concepts of what they think God is.

To me, God is truth, wisdom and love. I don't really even need to call it God. Maybe I should stop, because it seems to give people the wrong idea.

"and it's hard for a god to exist when you're a rationalist" What about the question "can something come from nothing?" wouldn't a rationalist say no? Simple law of non-contradiction.

How is it that all these people come up with ethics on their own? Atheists, who do not fear the authority of God, come up with these ideas. And how did Religions all over the world, without any interaction, come up with similar ideas? There seems to be something above us here. What is that truth that seems to govern all those who take the time to dig it out of their minds?

The rejection of the idea of God sitting on a cloud deciding who gets eternal bliss and who gets eternal damnation is a good thing. Inspiring someone to find a truth within themselves is the only real way they'll come up with ethical conclusions. Fear of authority doesn't allow someone understand why they shouldn't do something.

The Bible seems tries to inspire as much or more than it does scare, but fear is the easiest thing for people to understand so they jump immediately to it.

I think a lot of Atheists are on the right track. They're thinking, and that's where God is. I think people need new conceptions of what God is! There is an eternal unchanging law which governs the universe. Science is our way of figuring out what those laws are through observations of things that exist as bodies in the world.

So a lot people won't reject thinking and trying to come to the best conclusion they can on a matter. But without any sort of education in these matters, (as church has attempted to provide, but people not really thinking has skewed this whole purpose) some people will think "there is no God" and they will become their own God in a "what gives me the most instant satisfaction?" kind of way. (Not that people who are Christian or whatever don't do this by misunderstanding or skewing religion right now) They'll eat as much as they want, try to become as powerful or "important" as they can, try to be the most "this" or the most "that".

I think that church was a way of attempting to give these ideas which can be gotten from inside yourself to the general masses. Now that it's dwindling, I think that (some) people who might otherwise have been inspired to be good by church may never find that inspiration anywhere else.

I see the effects of "Godlessness" in North American society in movies, television, music and even childrens toys. Art is the most accurate reflection of a society after all.

Barbies. People ragged on Barbies for giving women an unrealistic body image. Sure, valid argument. But at least (up until pretty recently) they wore relatively modest clothing and not too much make up. (although for the time there were pretty bad I guess.) But look at what we have now. Bratz dolls. I would burn them all were it possible. Rich, spoiled, face painted scantily clad bitches. Just think about kids - this really does affect them. In the 80's, kids in schools dressed modestly, although some were for sure pushing the limits of their times. But look at the tweens sporting Paris Hilton gear? That never would have happened in any time except now, when the idea of God is being rejected. This is a massive and recent change.

A purely Capitalist society is quite Godless.North American society, for the most part, is currently Godless.

To conclude, I think a "Godless" society can be good. I also think a good society can't possibly be Godless. A good society cannot exist unless they contemplate the eternal unchanging rationale of the universe and are guided by wisdom and truth and not their own personal desires. Lots of Atheists do this! They don't even know they're contemplating what religious philosophers have been calling God for centuries!

That's all I'll say for now. Please read this post with charity.
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This argument, though I do agree that morality and God are not mutually exclusive concepts, does miss one point: Denmark, Sweden, Japan... these are examples of homogeneous societies. In Japan you cannot become a citizen without being Japanese (or having a very good reason). Heterogeneous societies, such as the UK, USA and Brazil, tend to have higher crime rates and such problems.

This is not an anti-immigrant rant, just pointing out an aspect to these comparisons. Many Heterogeneous societies are not immigrant cultures anymore - many of the mixed cultures have been there for a long time. I suspect this just adds a level of complexity to a society that makes certain frictions and situations harder to avoid.

Also, rule of law is a very big factor. I live in Dubai, which has an 80% foreigner population. But there is little crime here (of the petty variety, at least), largely thanks to a pretty draconian justice system.

God is irrelevant in this argument (and anyone applying the No God = Rape argument is woefully naive about how societies function). What we should look at are the cultural values themselves and these are much more deep-seated than any deity. We should also consider population density and simple numbers. Places like India (very religious) and China (mixed to non-religious, depending on whether you poll citizen or state) don't have low crime rates partially thanks to such factors.

I feat this is becoming a bad trend amongst atheists: we are so eager to make our point and prove theists wrong (given we've had to stay in the closet for such a long time) that we are grasping at any straw to win people over. Richard Dawkins' God Delusion is full of this flawed 'all or nothing' logic. The reality of God's place in the world is somewhere very inbetween.

You can't simply remove an ancient concept (deity worship has been a part of us for at least 50,000 years) with logic and using shallow, bias logic is only making things worse. Live by example! Let others know you are an atheist and let them judge you accordingly. The people worth saving will see you are still a good person. The people who don't, well, they will never see reason no matter how good your position is.
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I cant speak for all atheists, but I’m pretty sure they would agree there is never a justifiable reason, outside of self defense, to kill another human being. As far as atheists having a materialist philosophy, visit the Vatican, stuffed with valuable works of art, or the gold clad Buddhist temples, the Hindu temples with their walls studded in precious gems and tell me they are not materialistic. If it were only the small number of atheists that were materialistic, the world would be a very different place.
Having answered your question, perhaps you can now answer mine. Is there anything that an atheist would do that a religious person would never do?
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