Are Atheist Countries Really More Moral?
by Lenny Esposito
Within the last twenty four hours I saw two different versions of a meme gaining popularity online. The latest one references the nation of Iceland with text that states “Iceland has no army, jailed their corrupt bankers, economy is booming, violent crime is rare, one of the lowest crime rates in the world.” The meme then unveils its punch line: “Atheist majority population. Where is all that evil and depravity the religious talk about?”
Similar ideas have been offered before. Phil Zuckerman has written in this vein extensively. His article “Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies” that appeared last year in Psychology Today makes similar assertions:
…those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today, such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc.1
Is this right? Are nations such as Iceland, the Scandinavian countries, and Australia better off with their secular cultures?
Clarifying the Question – What Do you Mean by ‘Better’?
Before we jump too far into the details, it is important to clarify just what is being claimed. Take the Iceland meme for example. Does anyone think it would be better if the United States had no standing army? I’m certain Iceland wouldn’t like that, since as a member of NATO they rely on the U.S. and its NATO partners to protect them in the event of an invasion, as they did in World War II.2
Secondly, many of the measures that folks like Zuckerman uses are subjective on what makes a better state of affairs. For example, in her response to Zuckerman’s book Society Without God, sociologist Lisa Graham McMinn notes how selective Zuckerman’s definition of better is…
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