The most atheist country in the world is…

posted at 9:39 pm on April 18, 2012 by Allahpundit

…no longer a country.

The surveys found:

Atheism is strongest in northwest European countries such as Scandinavia and the former Soviet states (except for Poland). The former East Germany had the highest rate of people who said they never believed in God (59 percent); in comparison, 4 percent of Americans had that response.

The country with the strongest belief is the Philippines, where 94 percent of those surveyed said they always had believed in God. In the United States, that response came from 81 percent of the people surveyed.

Although by most measures, belief in God is gradually declining worldwide, it is increasing in Russia, Slovenia and Israel. In Russia, comparing the difference between those who believe in God but hadn’t previously, and those who don’t believe in God but used to, researchers found a 16 percent change in favor of belief.

Take advantage of the slow news night and spend time with the data (PDF), paying special attention to how belief has fared in former Soviet bloc countries compared to their European neighbors. (The tables on “Changes in Belief in God” on page 16 and “% Never Believed” on page 18 are especially juicy.) Among young adults who say they’ve never believed, the spread between what was once East Germany and what was once West Germany is more than 50 points. In the Czech Republic too, adults under 28 who’ve never believed is close to 70 percent. Proof positive that communism succeeded in destroying religious faith wherever it found it? Not quite: In Poland, just 3.5 percent of young adults say they’ve never believed. Among Poles over the age of 68, who lived through the Soviet era, the percentage of disbelievers is … 0.0. That’s a testament, I assume, to Poland’s Catholicism and, perhaps, the cultural influence of John Paul II, but it’s confounding to me that the descendants of people who suffered under communism are actually more atheistic — sometimes considerably so — than those who actually had to endure Soviet anti-religious propaganda and reprogramming. In the Czech Republic, for instance, there’s a nearly 50-point gap between young adults and seniors among those who say they’ve never believed. (It’s not universally true that younger generations believe less than older ones do, either. Older people in Israel, interestingly, are more likely than young adults to say they’ve never believed. Whether that’s an aftereffect of having lived through the Holocaust or proof of a religious revival in Israel, or both, I’m not sure.)

Adding to the mystery here: The country that experienced the biggest growth percentagewise in belief in God was — wait for it — Russia. In Russia, just 5.9 percent of young adults say they’ve never believed compared to 17.7 percent of those aged 58-67 who say so. Why are former Soviet countries like East Germany and the Czech Republic seeing faith collapse in younger generations whereas the former Soviet Union itself is seeing faith come back? I have no idea. Again, as with Poland, I assume it has to do with the Russian Orthodox church being more deeply embedded culturally than any church was in East Germany, but then that doesn’t answer the question of why there’d be such a huge gap in nonbelief between East and West Germany. You would think they’d be similar enough culturally that you’d see some effect from communism but not a gigantic difference. Instead — gigantic difference.

One big takeaway from the results: If you’re looking to stave off godlessness, Catholicism and the Orthodox faiths seem like much better bets than Protestantism. It’s not universally true that Catholic countries are immune — lots of nonbelievers in France — but it looks like a decent rule of thumb. Second look at rigid institutional hierarchies as critical to sustaining belief?


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I’m a Conservative Christian, but [. ]– my belief in God has nothing to do with my sense of morality.
Bizarro No. 1 on April 19, 2012 at 12:36 AM

Nothing? I’d ask you to check that assumption.

Cleombrotus on April 19, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Man, remember when atheists used to actually present a challenge?

Good times.

Cleombrotus on April 19, 2012 at 12:13 AM

You believe an old man took 2 of every animal on a ship. I rest my case.

angryed on April 19, 2012 at 12:20 AM

If you believe that the bulk of Christianity and of Biblical scholars are read Scripture with an ultra-literalist eye you have not much of a case to rest.

Mike OMalley on April 19, 2012 at 6:40 AM

I believe that’s why we have a German Pope, the decline of Catholicism in Germany. They should have chosen Latin America. I don’t think Benedict has changed much.

Marcus on April 18, 2012 at 9:44 PM

Christianity has been in notable decline in Germany since at least the first decades of the 20th century. That decline was a contributing factor in the emergence and rise of the Nazis after WWI.

Catholicism has been in decline Germany since the Kulture Kampf (Bismarck’s culture war against the Catholic Church) during the First German Reich. By 1930, Catholic mass attendance in the diocese of Berlin was down to around 10%.

Culture wars have consequences thought the impact of those culture wars may take decades to unfold.

Mike OMalley on April 19, 2012 at 6:51 AM

Although by most measures, belief in God is gradually declining worldwide

GOOD NEWS! with the belief in bunkum, hokum, fairy tales and a fictional magical powered sky friend is declining the world will become an infinitely better and smarter place.

Your Mamma loves me on April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

GOOD NEWS! with the belief in bunkum, hokum, fairy tales and a fictional magical powered sky friend is declining the world will become an infinitely better and smarter place.

Your Mamma loves me on April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Yea, because the former Soviet Union countries are such shining beacons for mankind.

philoquin on April 19, 2012 at 7:23 AM

GOOD NEWS! with the belief in bunkum, hokum, fairy tales and a fictional magical powered sky friend is declining the world will become an infinitely better and smarter place.

Your Mamma loves me on April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

I think you’re in for a nasty surprise, and probably sooner than you think.

zoyclem on April 19, 2012 at 7:43 AM

I’ve always wondered just how serious a person was meant to be taken with the very child like language of ‘imaginary friend in the clouds’ etc. I also wonder what influences some to naively believe that science and religion are somehow mutually exclusive. That is the implication when one says things like, “I don’t believe in religion, I believe in science”, yes? Are there bigger contributors to science than Aristotle and Newton? Both ethical monotheists by the way. Besides, more often than not, religion and science aren’t necessarily involved in answering the same questions (even when often dealing with the same subject matter).

It also seems apparent to me that the essential component for the scientific mind is that of curiosity. Given that science can only answer for things like “what” and “how” the scientist who speaks in terms of ‘ invisible skyfriend’ (or whatever) robs themselves of this component by not going further and truly exploring inquiries such as “why.”

anuts on April 19, 2012 at 8:16 AM

Don’t be surprised seeing Poland as an exception to the trend in northwest Europe. If it wasn’t for the religion there wouldn’t be Poland and they all (those who survived) would most likely speak German. And they KNOW IT.

ktrelski on April 19, 2012 at 8:17 AM

The part of Germany, where East Germany used to be, also sees a strong return of Nazism. (Don’t forget that Nazism stands for National Socialism in other words: Socialism.) Germany and Czech Rep. historically experienced religious conversions (Protestantism – state religion in both countries) and religious wars (Hussite Wars in Czech Kingdom). Don’t forget that Germany is an origin of Liberalism and Socialism.

ktrelski on April 19, 2012 at 8:38 AM

I remember Sean Hannity asked Howard Stern if he believes in God. He said “Well… I’m afraid to say no.”

I think that sums up most people’s feelings.

bernverdnardo1 on April 18, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Because Howard Stern is the national norm-mean of behavior LOL!

This is anecdotal Howard Stern get’s to speak for himself – he is one person that leaves around 320 Million other Americans he can’t speak for.

Dr Evil on April 19, 2012 at 8:49 AM

I don’t buy 81% of Americans believe there is an old man who lives in the clouds. I refuse to believe 81% of my fellow citizens still libe in the 14th century.

angryed on April 18, 2012 at 9:46 PM

Old man living in the clouds? That might be how Michelangelo chose to visually represent God in his ceiling painting, but I can’t think of any major religious group who thinks of God as an old man who lives in the clouds.

TigerPaw on April 19, 2012 at 2:42 AM

Atheist always reduce the God of Abraham down to religious kitsch. Like dashboard Jesus. None of them want to have a conversation about metaphysics.

Dr Evil on April 19, 2012 at 8:53 AM

Thankfully I believe GOD loves America and will save us. …

Steveangell on April 18, 2012 at 11:56 PM

What a bunch of jingoistic nonsense.

DarkCurrent on April 19, 2012 at 9:19 AM

My Dad was born in Germany, I have been going there since I was 1 year old, still have relatives there, cousins. When we first started going over, everyone went to church, young/old. Then it progressed to just the old, the last time I went, 5 years ago, even the older Germans aren’t going. Germany and I would say most of Europe has quit going to church. BUT, you should see the muslims. They were telling me that there are towns where you don’t even want to go to the town market on market day, it is just muslims and they scare the locals away.

reshas1 on April 19, 2012 at 9:22 AM

A little surprised by the comments here.

Don’t recall reading about China in this piece. A little research on Christianity and home church movement there should cause you to wonder.

Did a little deeper and you will read about dreams, visions and miracles going on in the Middle East. Stuff that the average non-religious type would find a little challenging to explain.

All in all I am very happy to know there is a God and He is big on grace.

sdbatboy on April 19, 2012 at 10:57 AM

Again, as with Poland, I assume it has to do with the Russian Orthodox church being more deeply embedded culturally than any church was in East Germany, but then that doesn’t answer the question of why there’d be such a huge gap in nonbelief between East and West Germany.

I think there are many factors to consider here, and the ones listed below are probably the tip of the iceberg.

Although in practice Lutheran-dominated, I don’t know if the old state of Prussia had a formal “national” church to speak of, whereas the same was not true for a long time in Russia, England, Greece, Poland, Finland, and other nations and/or provinces of empires past. Being a Prussian Junker typically meant being a German Protestant, but it didn’t really matter which denomination.

It is said that East Germany’s Protestant congregations operated with more state assistance and tolerance than Catholic organs did before the war and the emergence of the GDR. Thus the Catholic church and its agents had more experience keeping their work clandestine and independent.

The part of old Prussia that became East Germany had a long history of strong humanist and secularist movements which grew during the kulturkampf mentioned by some helpful poster above whose name I missed. Berlin was “Red” long before the Russians got ahold of it.

Additionally, whereas the property and presence of the East German churches suffered heavily during the war from Allied bombing and Soviet occupation, the Western churches were not nearly as badly off. In Russia, the Orthodox Church Metropolitan actually expanded his influence and reminded many people in the USSR of its quintissential Russian origins. Perhaps realizing that dialectical materialism was not the stuff from which ordinary Russian-Soviet citizens drew strength, Stalin permitted the Patriarchate to reconvene in Moscow and broadcast messages to rally the faithful – or just the fed-up.

(Not that this prevented the Soviets from confiscating church property, or defrocking priests or throwing them in cattle cars at other times in other places).

Grunchy Cranola on April 19, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Those who are intimately familiar with young poles know that the faith has been lost with far too many raised in a socialist/secular world.

Don L on April 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM

GOOD NEWS! with the belief in bunkum, hokum, fairy tales and a fictional magical powered sky friend is declining the world will become an infinitely better and smarter place.

Your Mamma loves me on April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Look at you, all excited. But it’s simply one atheist telling another atheist what he wants to hear. Only self-deluding atheists think that belief in God is declining.

cicerone on April 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” G.K. Chesterton

Like:

Socialism;
Communism;
Leftism;
Statism;
Occultism;
Celebrity Worship;
$$$$;
Man is the center of the Universe;
Irresponsible Sexual Indulgence;
Animal Rights;
Scientism;
Enviro Whackism;
Feminist Extremism;
Materialism….and on and on

wraithby on April 19, 2012 at 12:50 PM

+1

If there is such a thing as a rational theist, you would be it.

kastor on April 19, 2012 at 12:44 AM

Thanks. I try! :)

I have to ask you, why you would you be unsure about the existence of rational theism? Atheists look at the evidence for God and draw a different conclusion about it than a Christian like me does, but atheists can’t say with any credibility that a Christian like me is wrong or deluded based on that difference alone.

Why should any atheist presume that all belief in God occurs only because believers are trying to fill some type of emotional desire? I say that the atheists who do that are the ones who’ve been proven to be operating with an ulterior emotional motive.

Bizarro No. 1 on April 19, 2012 at 12:51 PM

My favorite is the professional atheists — usually brilliant, but self-worshiping souls who spend their entire lives angry and publicly fighting the very God they insist doesn’t exist. How smart can one get?

Don L on April 19, 2012 at 1:10 PM

My higher power helps me tremendously!

losarkos on April 19, 2012 at 2:23 PM

GOOD NEWS! with the belief in bunkum, hokum, fairy tales and a fictional magical powered sky friend is declining the world will become an infinitely better and smarter place.

Your Mamma loves me on April 19, 2012 at 7:08 AM

And yet the most heinous mass killings in all of history is brought to you courtesy of atheism.

vapig on April 19, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Bizarro

if the rights don’t come from a non-human grounding, they are dependent on those in power. As for your Japanese example, you might want to go back to pre WWII, i.e., before WE imposed ‘democracy’ on them. As I understand it, through most of the period we refer to as feudal Japan, a peasant could be summarily murdered by a samurai for insulting ‘his honor’. One particularly galling example I recall is the accidental tapping of the scabbard of a Samurai’s sword resulted in the near splitting in half of a peasant with said sword.

You make the assertion that to tie morality to religious beliefs is immoral; you state that we should rather have morality based in rationality. What do you base this on? And mightn’t we argue that in many, perhaps most cases ‘morality’ is irrational? Why sacrifice yourself for someone else when you can live and even prosper by their death? Why not covet someone else’s belongings and steal them, especially if you can get away with it? See, the problem is that when you take an absolute arbiter of morality out of the equation, ‘morals’ come to rely on people for imputation upon them of value. That opens the door to relativism. That’s a very shaky foundation for morality. The Nazis, the Communists and other horror show freaks were very rational. The problem was their antecedent assumptions about life, the premises with which they started.

I would also counter that for those who find it necessary to be scared straight, it’s a very rational thing to think ‘either I obey God and go to heaven, or I don’t and i go to hell. i think I’ll obey God.’

It’s also interesting to note to you, a self-described Christian, that Jesus seems to have linked morality and religion. ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command.’ And if I recall correctly, His commandments neatly fall into that category commonly called ‘morals’. And for many Christians, it is love, not fear, that motivates their morality. Love of God and love of neighbor.

avgjo on April 19, 2012 at 1:00 AM

I see so much that’s unclear/wrong here; I’m not sure that we’ll be coming to much of agreement about morality. We shall see, however…

You mentioned that love motivates many Christians’ moral sensibilities, which is something I do agree with, although I noticed you left out love of oneself, which is a crucial part of the equation. Besides love, however, you tried to make a case for fear as a justifiable motivation behind some people’s belief in God, which wasn’t a very good idea – do you believe God respects people who claim to trust Him when they are doing so simply because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t do so? Do you respect people whose real desires are restrained by nothing other than fear? How then could you think that God could accept such insincere “faith” as genuine? True faith originates from the heart, which is not where fear-based “faith” originates.

Do you believe that belief in God guarantees that believers will act morally? Of course you don’t, so I hope you don’t continue to believe that your point about Japan somehow refutes the idea that people can behave morally without believing in God.

You asked me what my basis is for saying that morality is legitimate only when it has its basis in rationalism/objectivism, and that morality which is based upon emotionalism/subjectivism is illegitimate. I gotta say, it’s rather frightening that you had to ask me that. Do you believe God subscribes to the idea that His moral admonitions are based on nothing other than His personal whims, which is what you vaguely implied in your post whether you realize it or not? You’re stuck in a bind on this one.

Do you believe that rape would be wrong only because God would say it’s wrong, or do you believe that God would tell us that rape is wrong because He understands that it is wrong in the first place, outside of His input on the matter? If your answer is “yes” to the first question, you don’t subscribe to objective morality – you subscribe to ‘might makes right’ morality, with God as a subjective arbiter Himself who just happens to be the mightiest dictator and thus the king of that hill. If you answer “yes” to the second question instead, I ask you, what then leads you to believe that a heathen couldn’t figure it out by logical thought alone that rape is always wrong w/o needing to hear it from God directly? I can tell you that the I agree with the Apostle Paul when he said people understand what true morality is from it’s self-evidentiary nature apart from God, something he elaborated upon in Romans 2.

Bizarro No. 1 on April 19, 2012 at 3:43 PM

And yet the most heinous mass killings in all of history is brought to you courtesy of atheism.

vapig on April 19, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Um, the most heinous institution in history has always been organized religion of one stripe or another.

And the heinous mass killings you refer to were also brought to you by people with mustaches.

Which means, logically, that if you have a mustache, you must support mass murder.

LOGIC!

Good Lt on April 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Nothing? I’d ask you to check that assumption.

Cleombrotus on April 19, 2012 at 6:34 AM

Yeah, nothing! :)

Why would you ask me to check that assumption – do you believe I should I base my morality on how someone else tells me to define it, as though I couldn’t figure out for myself what right & proper behavior is? Do you believe I should check that assumption out of concern for how God may reward me or discipline me, for either doing or not doing the right thing?

I explained in my last post at 3:43 why God can’t accept fear-based “faith” in Him – what kind of morality does a person actually have if his emotions are an integral part of that morality? Not a mature and meaningful one, I can tell you that!

According to the Bible, fear and love are mutually exclusive. If God is love, which is a Biblical declaration I believe to be true, and if perfect love casts out all fear, which is another Biblical declaration I believe to be true, the Bible is only verifying what common sense has always said is the case about love’s relationship with fear – I’m not afraid of nor worried about God’s “punishment” at all, which is exactly how He wants it to be. :)

Bizarro No. 1 on April 19, 2012 at 4:40 PM

One big takeaway from the results: If you’re looking to stave off godlessness, Catholicism and the Orthodox faiths seem like much better bets than Protestantism.

The obvious exception being the United States. While the Catholic Church is obviously alive and well here, Protestantism (particularly the more conservative varieties) has always been/remains the lifeblood of American Christianity.

LukeinNE on April 19, 2012 at 9:25 PM

It amazes me how in modern times people can still cling to absurdities.

mazer9 on April 19, 2012 at 10:40 PM

It amazes me that as we learn more and ore about the complexities, patterns and consistencies of our universe, that people can still suggest that it formed itself in violation of every scientific law we have ever discovered.

rwenger43 on April 20, 2012 at 1:22 AM

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