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On Faith: Is belief a 'default' position by humans?

April 09, 2011|By Bruce Gleason

It is said that humans have always believed in the supernatural to explain the unexplainable.

Just 500 years ago, we would all have agreed that God was responsible for earthquakes, tsunamis and even rainbows. Now we know better.

It's not that we were less intelligent than our forbears, we just didn't have the science to explain it any better. So, yes – the default position has survived for the more than 150,000 years that we've been around as Homo sapiens.


But now we live in a world filled with science and technology. Is the "default" position of still believing still here? Some say it is.

I would have also agreed up until I read Phil Zuckerman's book "Society Without God". Dr. Zuckerman, a sociologist, lives part-time in Sweden and studies why pious belief is so rare in all of the Scandinavian countries.

He writes that some citizens of these secular countries have a hard time admitting to their closest friends and relatives that they believe in a God, which is the opposite of what atheists here in America have in common.

If there is a default position, why is 85% or more of the populations of those countries atheist? The answer lies in the secular culture and a non-believing family structure.

If we look at how secular countries fair against religious ones, we see that secular countries have less violence (Denmark had only one murder in the entire year of 2010), better health, less abortions and teen pregnancy, a higher level of happiness and well being, gender equality, infant mortality rates, lack of corruption, universal health care, free education, a high level of moral social order – all measurements of a healthy society are the highest among secular countries. The reverse is true as well – the most religious countries have the worst standard of living, all in correlation with how strongly they believe.

These statistics fly in the face of any religious leader who spouts rhetoric that we need religion to keep our country together. Obviously the Scandinavian countries do fine without one. Their countries do not fall apart as the religionists say they will.

There is no universal default position. We derive our beliefs from where we live and how we are raised. Monotheistic religions, multi-deity religions, God of the earth, sun and moon or no God at all.

In a strange paradigm twist – if one believes in God, he is rewarding the most non-religious countries with a healthier society and punishing those countries whose citizens believe in a supernatural supreme being.

Maybe the United States could learn a lesson from those atheistic Scandinavian countries. "In God We Trust" has nothing to do with the well-being of our citizens.

BRUCE GLEASON is director of the Freethought Alliance, an atheistic group.

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