Sam Harrelson



Sam Harrelson

Danes, Swedes and Post-Religious Morality



Growing up outside of a faith community (and in my hometown context, that meant Southern Baptist) until I was 13, my friends would often ask (even at our young age) how I knew right from wrong if I didn’t go to church. Those experiences have always stuck with me.

Of course, those questions made sense because as kids in the 80’s we were constantly on the alert for the godless communists that wanted to obliterate us and our Christian way of life. However, now we have the construction of al-Qaeda as the boogey people, so we demonize extremist Muslims rather than godless commies.

While these sorts of studies are hard to correlate data wise, it is interesting to observe how “post-religious” states such as Denmark and Sweden line up against more “religious” states like the US or Mexico or Brazil or Iran:

The Virtues of Godlessness – ChronicleReview.com: “Many people assume that religion is what keeps people moral, that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for Scandinavians in those two countries. Although they may have relatively high rates of petty crime and burglary, and although these crime rates have been on the rise in recent decades, their overall rates of violent crime — including 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, slating the good for heaven and the wicked for hell. Most Danes and Swedes don’t believe that sin permeates the world, and that only Jesus, the Son of God, who died for their sins, can serve as a remedy. In fact, most Danes and Swedes don’t even believe in the notion of ‘sin.'”

So, the question becomes what impact does religion have on our conceptions and intentional acts of realized morality? Are these positive or negative effects? Was religion formulated and born in an era of our species’ development when we needed a construct of some “other” force or entity to ensure community ethos, empathy, sharing, and foundational morality?

If so, what good is religion?



Posted: 01.29.2009

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