can’t see the forest

Norway Flourishes as a Secular Nation

Posted in Education, humanism, Norway, Politics, Religion, Science, secularism, USA by Curtis on 10/5/07

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I could not believe my eyes when I came across this piece from the Montgomery Advertiser here in my home state of Alabama, USA. It’s a letter to the editor from David Miles in Orange Beach, Alabama (a beautiful vacation spot if you’ve never been there, by the way):

Flag of NorwayRev. Rick Mason notes that atheism is on the rise. He blames Christian fundamentalism. Certainly the ineptness, dishonesty and lack of ethics of the overtly God-fearing Bush administration may be turning people off on God.

A case study shows what this could mean for America. Norway has embraced secularism at the expense of its Christian roots. A 2005 survey conducted by Gallup International rated Norway the least religious country in Western Europe.

In Norway, 82.9 percent of the population are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (they are automatically registered at birth and few bother to be unregistered). However, only approximately 10 percent regularly attend church services and identify themselves as being personally Christian.

A 2006 survey found: 29 percent believe in a god or deity; 23 percent believe in a higher power without being certain of what; 26 percent don’t believe in God or higher powers; 22 percent have doubts.

Depending on the definition of atheism, Norway thus has between 26 percent and 71 percent atheists. The Norwegian Humanist Association is the world’s largest humanist association per capita.

And what has secularism done to Norway? The Global Peace Index rates Norway the most peaceful country in the world. The Human Development Index, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has ranked Norway No. 1 every year for the last five years.

Norway has the second highest GDP per capita in the world, an unemployment rate below 2 percent, and average hourly wages among the world’s highest.

David N. Miles
Orange Beach


Considering that this was published in a Montgomery, Alabama newspaper, you can bet your blue booties that there’ll be an editorial outlash against such blasphemy. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and report back on anything of particular interest.

I would caution against extrapolating overmuch from this, in terms of projecting the political climate of Norway upon the United States. But the figures are startling and, while the implications are debatable, their existence, at least, is hardly deniable.

Also interesting was a chart I Stumbled upon yesterday, forgot to bookmark, and now cannot locate again. So, I’ll just have to tell you about it. It was a public survey conducted among sample populations from the U.S., the E.U., Russia, South Korea, China, and possibly another demographic area I’m forgetting. The researchers posed a series of science-related true/false questions to the participants and then charted the percentages of correct responses by country/region.

South Korea generally dominated, as I recall, with the U.S. and the E.U. following close behind. But there were two questions on which the participants from the U.S. responded with far more incorrect answers than the rest of the world.

The first was: True or False – The Universe began with a huge explosion. The researchers considered this to be ‘true,’ and, while I recognize that this is debatable to a certain extent, that’s not the point. The point is that the majority of people elsewhere in the world answered ‘true.’

The second was: True or False – Humans developed from earlier species. Again, the researchers said this was ‘true,’ and it is a far less scientifically controversial proposition than the previous example. Most Americans answered ‘false,’ in contrast with the correct responses given by the majority of people from the other national samples.

What this demonstrates to me is—well, never mind that. What does it demonstrate to you, if anything?

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11 Responses

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  1. don warner said, on 10/5/07 at 2:39 pm

    Christians have disgraced Jesus Christ.

    Starting with St. Paul they have corrupted his teaching. If he were to return today, there is little if anything of his teaching he would recognise.

    Too bad because the things he taught were woth remembering.

    Instead of that, people were killed and burned at the stake in his name

  2. Tom Reitz said, on 10/5/07 at 3:03 pm

    Norwegian atheism accounts for its prosperity?

    Norway is an OPEC nation. Their North Sea production is three million BBLs per DAY. Let’s see, thats, uh, about $250 billion per year. Split that among 5 million people, and you have a rich nation. And that wealth has NOTHING TO DO with a society restructured as an atheist paradise.

    Their atheism shows itself in their nihilism. Norway refused to have ANYTHING to do with the European Union, because they couldn’t see the point in having THEIR oil money go into a pot that would benefit Portugal, Italy, and G-d forbid, benefit the hated Swedes.

    To quote Daffy Duck: Go! Go! Go!, Mine! Mine! Mine! I’m rich! I’m a happy miser.

  3. Curtis said, on 10/5/07 at 4:08 pm

    I agree somewhat, Tom, it’s ridiculous to draw a simple equation. But no one is suggesting Norway is an “atheist paradise”—that’s a bit extreme. The key considerations are economic, as you’re quite right to note. I suppose the question to be drawn is: how does the prevalence of superstition in the United States affect the bellicosity of its people?

  4. Curtis said, on 10/5/07 at 4:09 pm

    I’m with you, Don. I’m not a theist or a creationist myself, but I certainly understand the corruption of Jesus’ teachings, which has been going on in one form or another since day one.

  5. QB said, on 10/5/07 at 4:26 pm

    Curtis just watch the growing religion in US politics with some website tracking God-o-Meter of all the Presidential candidates. The religion is on the rise in USA.

    Universe created with big Bang. True.

  6. QB said, on 10/5/07 at 5:11 pm

    God-o-Meter is on beliefnet.

  7. onemorecup said, on 10/5/07 at 8:42 pm

    Hey Curtis,

    For the most part I must agree with you. Insofar as your response is based on Tom’s (for the most part) I therefore must agree with Tom as well; especially his take on financial matters.

    On the article: Toilet paper! It’s difficult to qualify the Montgomery Advertiser as part of the main-stream media, but suffice it to say that any editor worth his salt would never allowed that piece of unsupported speculation and bias ever run for print.

    Just one more thing: I, personally, really don’t know how the universe was created; I’m not altogether certain if anyone does. It would be interesting to see how USA only sample would respond to the question. Cheers!

    OMC

    PS Sorry, you know the social icons above that we all got from sunburntkamel? How do they work for you. Onemorething, do you have to put the article title in each time? Thanx in advance.

  8. Tom Reitz said, on 10/6/07 at 9:07 am

    The only point from that item is the writer (it’s a letter to the editor) is a demagogue with a willful disregard (or profound ignorance) for facts.

    It appealed so much to the editor of The Montgomery Advertiser that he published it.

    Embarrassing for both.

    And some posters say the real issue is superstition’s ability to cause bellicosity. Or the failure to conform to the teachings of Christ. Huh? Non-sequitir alert.

    re: bellicosity and religion. Can’t historically separate a society’s bellicosity from religion, because they have intimately coexisted. Started to see a divergence with the development of the secular state in the 1800’s.

    In that field, compare and contrast on a bellicosity meter:

    1) “Superstitious” founding fathers of the U.S. and the U.S. Constitution
    2) The VERY secular French Revolution.

    Que es mas Belicosa?

    Moving forward in time (1800s), as church and state begin to diverge through the loss of monarchies (or monarchical power)and the divine-right -of -kings, states begin to emerge that do NOT make any changes in their imperialist holdings throughout the undeveloped world, and make Europe’s fields a dynastic slaughterhouse. So the losses of “G-d and King” Didn’t help too much. (Thanks for the memories, Napoleon!)

    But maybe when a country truly divests itself from “superstition” by state edict, it can truly divert from bellicosity. These are good statistical examples to try and find a causality.

    One or more “Superstitions” illegal:
    Nazi Germany
    Soviet Union
    Maoist China
    Cuba (or Cue-ber, as JFK would say)
    Tibet (oh, that’s China again!)
    North Korea

    Bellicosity meter?

    Conclusion: Conflict, and in most of the atheist states listed above, evil, is a natural human state. Occurs with or without “superstition”, and a lot more without superstition (don’t even get me started on respective body counts)

    So, after the disastrous, purposefully irreligious regimes of the 20th century, what is the take away? What has a chance of reforming mankind?

    When in doubt, ask Frank.

    “Don’t think the big man upstairs ain’t takin’ notes, baby!” – Frank Sinatra to a bellicose Billy Idol (OK, Phil Hartman to Sting, SNL skit).

    PS: All religions are not equal. That would be giving Islam a free ride on Bhuddism and Christianity.

  9. Curtis said, on 10/7/07 at 4:21 pm

    OneMoreCup: I save the HTML code with the links to the images, but, in this template file, I represent the places where the URL and post title would go by using marker characters ($, *) that I then replace with the appropriate strings for each post by using Notepad’s find-and-replace. Then I paste the code back into the appropriate post. I’m used to this method and it works for me, but check out this tool for an easier way to do it.

    Tom: A very thoughtful (and eloquent) reply for which I am most appreciative.

    In retrospect, it now seems obvious that the letter to the editor (regardless of the paper) did not pose a valid proposition in any sense. That is: not only is the correlation less than thorough, but the flourishing certainly cannot be shown to flow from the secularity. I should have been more aware of this in the original post, really. It’s a little embarrassing.

    I would disagree that it can be shown that the French Revolution was decidedly more or less secular than the American Revolution. Firstly, the Declaration drafted by the French National Constituent Assembly of 1789 was directly modeled after the earlier American documents; secondly, it was drawn up to look like the Ten Commandments on tablets, and with the familiar old eye-in-the-golden-pyramid overlooking it all. Thirdly, I think that any tendency to view the “founding fathers” of the United States as intending to found their nation on exclusively Judeo-Christian principles is an aberration of perspective. The Declaration of Independence of the United States uses the terms “nature’s God” and “their Creator” in a highly ambiguous sense, and no identity can be read into these terms without assumption except as the rhetorical appeal to an authority higher than that of the King of Great Britain.

    That the French Revolution was more compact, tumultuous, and bloody than the American Revolution has nothing to do with any secularity and everything to do with the fact that it was not a maneuver for colonial independence across the distance of an ocean, but the displacement of the ancien régime in situ.

    To suggest that religious belief is the cause of bellicosity (I can’t stop using that word now) would be absurd. My suggestion is merely that, in a world whose map has been fully revealed and its various peoples fully enumerated, religion is a culturally cohesive justification for bellicose behavior of one culture against another. The leaders of states wage war for economic reasons—that’s realpolitik. But, to paraphrase Napoléon, the citizens of the state cannot be brought to face death in war without a more metaphysical and ideological justification. This is why the role of religion in the context of the state is primarily as a popular motivator to bigotry and violence.

    You suggest the “godless” régimes of Nazi Germany and Maoist China, among others, as examples that this is not the case. But what you did not account for was that, in all of these cases, the superstitious religions of old were replaced with shiny new superstitious religions, those of nationalism, which itself was presented as a kind of metaphysical ideology. Nazi Germany was secular only if we define the altar of Christ as nonsecular and the altar of Hitler as secular, which is not a constructive distinction. The “purposefully irreligious regimes of the 20th century,” were, in fact, not irreligious at all. They simply replaced established religions with a national religion, which is not representative of secularity.

    I agree that all religions are not equal—for I cannot imagine an autocratic regime based on Buddhist hermeneutics; but I do believe they are all equally human in inspiration. And I believe that, could we replace the theistic religions of the world with a nontheistic, non-nationalist doctrine consisting solely of the refusal to unquestioningly accept ideological indoctrination, there would be far less violence in the world at the level of the nation-state. The question is not whether or not religion and war are separable historically, but whether or not they are separable today and in the future.

  10. Tom Reitz said, on 10/8/07 at 9:07 am

    • I respond:
    YOU:
    I would disagree that it can be shown that the French Revolution was decidedly more or less secular than the American Revolution. Firstly, the Declaration drafted by the French National Constituent Assembly of 1789 was directly modeled after the earlier American documents; secondly, it was drawn up to look like the Ten Commandments on tablets, and with the familiar old eye-in-the-golden-pyramid overlooking it all.

    ME:
    Oh, I think it can easily be shown to be more secular and profoundly more violent (which I will show go hand-in-hand). The French Revolution included loyalty oaths to the state required of priests, the removal of the Holy See as authority over priests, renaming Notre Dame as “The Temple of Reason”, massacres of thousands of priests by the guillotine and “The Terror” directed specifically at the Church.
    Not the replacement of the Church with protestantism, but with no-god atheism. But the people who did these things thought it was all OK because the church had it coming, and there was no eternal price to pay. POINT: Not fearing a transcendent justice and what irreligious do with that “Liberation.”

    YOU:
    The documents were modeled on the U.S. documents, their actions were not, to their own great detriment. I care more about what people do, than what people talk about, or what they try and ape to gain some credibility for themselves. Also, the eye is a Masonic (a fraternity) logo, not a religious logo.
    Thirdly, I think that any tendency to view the “founding fathers” of the United States as intending to found their nation on exclusively Judeo-Christian principles is an aberration of perspective. The Declaration of Independence of the United States uses the terms “nature’s God” and “their Creator” in a highly ambiguous sense, and no identity can be read into these terms without assumption except as the rhetorical appeal to an authority higher than that of the King of Great Britain.

    ME:
    Terms were ambiguous to allow other FAITHs to join the republic whose membership was based on a new concept – allegiance to ideals. However the founders were profoundly religious people. The U.S. was founded by people looking for religious freedom, that was the whole point of going to the colonies – you know, pilgrims and all that.
    Source document re: religious nature of founders – George Washington’s (men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him) 1796 farewell address:
    “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

    YOU:
    That the French Revolution was more compact, tumultuous, and bloody than the American Revolution has nothing to do with any secularity and everything to do with the fact that it was not a maneuver for colonial independence across the distance of an ocean, but the displacement of the ancien régime in situ
    Well, all the elements of a British regime were in place in the colonies, except for the monarch, who was represented by the governor’s general. If the apparatus of a regime were not in place, the revolution would have consisted of signing the declaration and the British setting up an embassy in New York. But that’s not what happened. The Revolutionary War (not Revolutionary Negotiation, or Revolutionary Four-Party Talks) lasted 1776-1781, and Valley Forge would have been a winter training exercise.
    .To suggest that religious belief is the cause of bellicosity (I can’t stop using that word now) would be absurd. My suggestion is merely that, in a world whose map has been fully revealed and its various peoples fully enumerated, religion is a culturally cohesive justification for bellicose behavior of one culture against another.
    Sure it is. But there are a lot of other reasons for war: oil, slavery, antisemitism, piracy, soccer matches, communism, nationalism, water, arable land, insults, and all other things under the sun that have to do with humanity being human. Not just with religion.
    The leaders of states wage war for economic reasons—that’s realpolitik.

    ME:
    Sometimes, yes, sometimes no, ibid. “War for economic reasons” is not the definition of Realpolitik.

    YOU:
    But, to paraphrase Napoléon, the citizens of the state cannot be brought to face death in war without a more metaphysical and ideological justification. This is why the role of religion in the context of the state is primarily as a popular motivator to bigotry and violence.

    ME:
    Wow. See above, especially Washington’s address. That’s just an amazing statement. Bigotry and violence exist with and without religion, and are in fact exacerbated, profoundly exacerbated, when there is no religion.

    YOU:
    You suggest the “godless” régimes of Nazi Germany and Maoist China, among others, as examples that this is not the case. But what you did not account for was that, in all of these cases, the superstitious religions of old were replaced with shiny new superstitious religions, those of nationalism, which itself was presented as a kind of metaphysical ideology. Nazi Germany was secular only if we define the altar of Christ as nonsecular and the altar of Hitler as secular, which is not a constructive distinction. The “purposefully irreligious regimes of the 20th century,” were, in fact, not irreligious at all. They simply replaced established religions with a national religion, which is not representative of secularity.

    ME:
    That’s silly, self-justifying rhetoric that proves my point. When the state and religion are one, then the thought of transcendental justice, the primary symbiotic and VERY NECESSARY feature that allow religion and the state to peacefully coexist, is lost. That’s when REALLY bad things happen. Much more so than when religion is firmly in place, separate from the state. Also, your argument is “The Evil-State became, or overtook, religion, making religion evil, too.” In those cases I agree. When religion is not religion, but the state, then the state is the worse actor of all. But then its not religion acting, it’s the state – my point.
    MAO WAS AN ATHEIST and created a regime that forbade religion and KILLED those who were religious (in total, about 100 million – not just for being religious). STALIN WAS AN ATHEIST, and created a regime that sought the complete subjugation of the church under his control, and killed 40 million people. The KIM’S of NORTH KOREA are ATHEISTS and do not allow religion in their slave-state country. Hitler was not a Christian, he was a pagan, and purposefully sought out the religious as enemies of the state. This “Hitler was Christian” meme is really way out there and I don’t know where it comes from. Certainly not from a reading of Mein Kampf or Shirer’s the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany.

    YOU:
    I agree that all religions are not equal—for I cannot imagine an autocratic regime based on Buddhist hermeneutics; but I do believe they are all equally human in inspiration. And I believe that, could we replace the theistic religions of the world with a nontheistic, non-nationalist doctrine consisting solely of the refusal to unquestioningly accept ideological indoctrination, there would be far less violence in the world at the level of the nation-state. The question is not whether or not religion and war are separable historically, but whether or not they are separable today and in the future

    ME:
    Believe what you want about the source of religion, but your second sentence is just not Realpolitik, its a childish fantasy not borne out by any facts or historical context. Honestly. That’s the most disappointing part of your reply – your desire to “rework man” into a socialist being. It doesn’t work and its proven not to work, and to hold onto that “Dream” (which in practical application quickly becomes a NIGHTMARE) is profoundly silly. History shows over and over again what happens when your wish comes true. Be careful what you wish for…

    I’m sure you are a big fan of Darwin. Look around you. You would say we are from that stock. The shark that eats the fish. The bear that eats the salmon. The hyaennas that pick the last scrap of flesh from a carcass. Religion gives definition to humanity. That there is a divine spark that lets us rise above the animal kingdom and a big man upstairs who’s keeping score who has commandments that move humanity to living a good life and expects people to live by them. Let’s cherish that, not throw it away.

  11. anthony said, on 9/12/08 at 7:31 am

    Tom you say “The KIM’S of NORTH KOREA are ATHEISTS and do not allow religion in their slave-state country.” When they see themselves as gods and their people led to beleive it, same goes for Stalin and the others which does not make them atheists. national religion as you call it.


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