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A society without religion?

by Donald Prothero, Jun 06 2012


This past year of electoral politics has been eye-opening in the United States, with GOP presidential candidates (especially Santorum, Perry, and Bachmann) openly advocating a Christian theocracy in this country, and many Republicans showing their scorn for the separation of Church and State (or rewriting history to diminish its importance). Only one (Jon Huntsman) of the original nine GOP candidates accepted evolution, and several were devout creationists (Bachmann got her start fighting for creationism in her local Minnesota school board). We’ve seen the Texas School Board not only pushing creationism, but dropping Thomas Jefferson from the list of “great Americans” because of his secularist views and low regard for established religion. Although the right wing in this country has always had a strong connection to evangelicals and fundamentalism, now they form one of the largest and most dedicated blocs in the GOP, so they dictate a national political stance that openly yearns for a Christian theocracy. Years ago, Barry Goldwater warned about them:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom…. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are?… I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

For the devil’s bargain that the GOP made back in the 1980s with Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts and the rest of the evangelical megachurches and their preachers, now their pigeons have come home to roost. Barry would scarcely recognize today’s GOP.

For me, it has been even more discouraging, since the battle over pushing creationism and other forms of anti-science into public school science classes just gets more virulent and hard to stop as they try any strategy to sneak religious ideas past the Constitution. I’ve been fighting this battle since I first broke away from my Presbyterian upbringing over 40 years ago, and began to read and explore religious topics in college. I learned to read Hebrew and Greek so I could read scriptures for myself (and discovered how misguided a notion the “literal” interpretation of the Bible is). My personal religious and intellectual quest gave me a good background for my frequent battles with the creationists (and informed my 2007 book on evolution), but 99% of the country has never been exposed to this kind of information, and cling to whatever they were taught as children.

This is a struggle that started in 1859 and shows no sign of easing after 153 years, especially when 40% or more of people in this country believe in creationism. Each time I give a lecture about evolution, someone in the audience invariably asks what can be done about these religious zealots, and whether there is any hope that we will be able to stop them—or are we condemned to be forever fighting a rear-guard action to prevent further inroads into public education. (Never mind trying to make evolution more widely accepted).

But there are signs of hope. There are many places around the world where religion has shrunken in importance, where only a few percent to a few tens of a percent of the population is religious. There are places where religious zealots have no power over the government and only good science is taught in science classes. Where is this Utopia, you ask? Actually, this description applies to many of the industrialized nations of the world, almost all of which have very low levels of religiosity, and no issue with creationism intruding on public education. Nearly all the northern and western European nations fit this description (especially in Scandinavia, where religion is almost non-existent). It’s true just north of the border, where Canadians have no intrusion of religion in their science classes, no significant problem with creationism, and only their habit of splitting the predominantly liberal vote between two parties allows conservatives victory at all.

Take a look at Quebec, for example. Before the 1960s, it was heavily dominated by the Catholic Church, and one of the most devout provinces in Canada. It was also one of the most economically backward and least educated. Then came the “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s, when the government set out to modernize and secularize their educational institutions, including compulsory free public education through high school. They also provided many other social services (health care, retirement, unemployment benefits, etc.) that were already established elsewhere in Canada. What followed was an explosion in economic activity, a rapid rise in the standard of living—and today only 22% of Quebecois consider themselves “religious,” fewer than any other Canadian province, making it one of the most secular societies in North America.

That’s a theme that a number of authors, from Phil Zuckerman to Greg Paul, have pointed out again and again: societies which provide good social services (child care, health care, unemployment benefits, free public education through college, retirement benefits, generous vacations, etc.) remove the need for people to be fearful for their lives, and they soon no longer need to pray to a god to protect them. Zuckerman’s book, in particular, is based on over 14 months of research in Scandinavia. (I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany and Scandinavia, and found Zuckerman’s description of these places is very accurate). He provides a huge amount of detail about various measurements of “happiness”, and shows how strong the influence on good social services is on the “happiness index” of a society. The less they pray, believe in god, and fear death or worry about the afterlife, the happier they were. The Bible-thumpers are constantly preaching that lack of religion leads to fear and immorality and unhappiness, when the exact opposite is the case.

We hear right-wingers in this country scream “socialism” as if it’s a terrible blight or a version of the Soviet gulags, yet these European countries are effectively socialist in most of their policies, and they are among the happiest people in the world. Does that fact ever penetrate the American media bubble? Even Democrats try to shy away from the “socialist” label because it is so misunderstood and used as a calumny by the right wing. Among sitting politicians, only Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont bills himself as a Socialist and not a Democrat, but it doesn’t seem to hurt his popularity at home at all.

So if providing people with comfort and security is so evil, why are they so happy? Is our form of capitalism so superior? In economic terms, that’s also debatable. The strongest economies in Europe are in Germany and  the Scandinavian countries, which have managed to outdo the United States in many areas (especially their educational systems, and their investments in green technology and reduced dependence on foreign oil). Germany, Sweden and Denmark are currently among the four most economically competitive nations in the world, and the rest of the list includes other northern European countries. These nations also  have some of the best ratios of wealth or GDP per capita, and the lowest rates of income inequality between the rich and the poor. The latest fad is looking at the educational system in Finland, which leads the world in its effectiveness—and does not have the local control of boards of education that would allow travesties like our Texas Board of Education. Even now when the European Union is weakened by its poorest members (Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, which are also among the most religious countries in Europe), Germany and Scandinavia continue to be pillars of strength.

They also have many other positives: some of the lowest crime rates in the world (with almost no police force, lax court systems, and very humane prison systems); low suicide rates; unwavering support for the arts, with thriving orchestras and art museums and theaters in many cities, and no issue of arts budgets being slashed by a fanatical right-wing zealots who regard art as “immoral” or “liberal” or a superfluous luxury; very high rates of gender equality and acceptance of homosexuality; low rates of political corruption; and high rates of economic support to other nations. I’ve been to many of the cities in this region, and they are clean, safe, well-run, with excellent public transit systems and bike paths and other signs of a rational society.

Of course, not everything is equal. Many of the northern European countries are ethnically homogeneous and speak only one language (besides English, as many do), so they are not plagued with the racial and  language and immigration issues that affect poverty in the U.S. Germany and some other countries are just now beginning to deal with significant Muslim immigrant minorities, and there are problems, as well have all heard.  These countries don’t spend absurd amounts on their defense budget, either, but they didn’t do so even when the old Soviet Union was a threat.

Nonetheless, every time I visit my friends in Germany and Scandinavia, or correspond with them, I’m reminded of how much better they have it than we do. When this topic comes up, they are either incredulous that religion is such a powerful force, or that we are still fighting battles over health care in the U.S. Remember, the Scandinavian countries were economic backwaters until they changed their political systems, and now they are economic powerhouses. But, you might say, the U.S. has a long religious tradition that is deeply entrenched and powerful! So did Quebec before the 1960s. The example of Quebec shows that in just a generation, a society can go from backward and religious to modern and secular. So maybe there is hope for the U.S. after all, and maybe I’ll live to see the day when creationism is  no longer a problem. As John Lennon said, imagine no religion…

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62 Responses to “A society without religion?”

  1. gski says:

    So the anti-socialist’s ploy is to keep people fearful and needy of religion.

    My first awareness of politics was the the daisy girl commercial. I was literally afraid Goldwater would be elected. Now compared to today’s GOP he sounds like a moderate.

  2. Trimegistus says:

    Democratic party playbook for 2012: SCARY CHRISTIANS!! THE SCARY CHRISTIANS ARE COMING TO GET YOU!

    This is idiocy. For my entire adult life liberals have been hyperventilating about “theocracy” every time a Republican expresses unremarkable mainstream Christian beliefs. And during my adult life the “religious right” has become less influential both within the Republican Party and outside it.

    Mr. Prothero, don’t you have anything more interesting to post about than simply cutting and pasting DNC talking points?

    • Janet Camp says:

      “And during my adult life the “religious right” has become less influential both within the Republican Party and outside it.”

      Really? Do we live in the same universe?

    • itzac says:

      With respect to actual policies, you’re right. The religious has less influence in the Republican party. With respect to rhetoric, the religious right is nearly the only source of it within the Republican party.

    • DelSolar says:

      “For my entire adult life liberals have been hyperventilating about “theocracy” every time a Republican expresses unremarkable mainstream Christian beliefs.”

      Unremarkable mainstream Christian beliefs like these?

      – “American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law. That’s what Blackstone said—the English jurist—and our founders looked to Blackstone for the foundation of our law. That’s our law . . . I have a biblical worldview. And I think, going back to the Declaration of Independence, the fact that it’s God who created us—if He created us, He created government. And the government is on His shoulders, as the book of Isaiah says.” – Michelle Bachmann

      – “Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers . . . in every person’s heart, in every person’s soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Rick Perry

      – “But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law. … As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court— in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law.” – Rick Santorum

      – “I think there is in this country a war on religion … I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism.” – Mitt Romney

      Damned liberals. Screaming “theocracy!” when all these unremarkable mainstream Republican Christians are saying is the government has to abide by the higher Law of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      • Loonyyy says:

        “Religion… known as Secularism.”

        Damn. It must be great to be able to define words as meaning whatever they like, regardless of their actual definitions.

        I’m really starting to get annoyed at this ignorant tu quoue I see where people who fail to understand a position, like secularism, or accepting evolution, label it as a religion to satisfy their need to feel intellectually equal.

    • Karen says:

      Either we don’t live in the same universe, or we don’t do his drugs.

    • Aleksamson says:

      ”This is idiocy. For my entire adult life liberals have been hyperventilating about “theocracy””
      Just to clear it up,since I’m not american…
      You are not worried if people like Sarah Palin have nuclear codes? Or politicians who pray for meteorological condition to change, or candidates who goes on TV saying that She\s not a witch? You are Ok with that?
      ”“religious right” has become less influential”??
      Three GOP candidates clamed that god told them to run,only one out of 10 accepts evolution. AM I missing something?
      You have a great secular constitution, but your culture is terrible.Religiosity is somewhere between EUropean medieval & Salem witch trial

      • Daniel says:

        When those religious crazies start banning other religions or locking up heretics and atheists, then there’s a problem. Otherwise, it’s just rhetoric. If anything, there’s a lot more religious violence in Europe. Notice how there weren’t any Mohammed cartoon riots in the US. Freedom of religion is just as important as no establishment of religion. And for all the belly-aching about Sarah Palin, she holds no political office, did not run for any political office this election cycle, and arguably destroyed the presidential ambitions of a politically moderate decorated war veteran, who ended up losing to a black man with virtually no political experience who a number of people (including a few people I know who actually voted for him) believed was some sort of al Qaeda secret agent.

        Also, there is also no such thing as a singular American culture as you appear to suggest. There are some places where they want to teach creationism in schools, and other places that are militantly secular and politically correct to a fault.

      • Alektorophile says:

        Yup, no Mo cartoons-related riots in the US, but then if I remember correctly, no US publications had the guts to reprint the cartoons to actually show their readership what the crazies’ ire was all about, bending over backwards to accomodate the religious fanatics. Why riot when they had already won? Many newspapers in many European countries did instead reprint the cartoons, as an act of defiance and in a show of support for freedom of speech, something we care about on this side of the pond.

        And what’s with that “militant” label I see applied to secularism and atheism all the time whenever some religious fundie runs short of arguments? Pot calling the kettle black?

      • Daniel says:

        “Militant” atheist is a figure of speech. Chillax and lay off the caffeine.

        Perhaps no US newspapers published them, but they were reproduced on blogs and on television. You had one small incident where a few meshugees threatened the South Park creators. They were quickly arrested. Meantime, they were rioting in Europe. There are also the various Shariah for England rallies that pop up from time to time.

        The point of all this is to disabuse smug and self-satisfied atheists that their shit stinks too. Quit humorous that those backward religious types in flyover country in the US were growing the food to feed the enlightened, atheist, socialist Soviet Union.

      • Daniel says:

        One other thing I’ll add is that an alarming number of people in Europe believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. At least a creationist can say “well I wasn’t there,” so maybe there was burning bush or Jesus performed miracles. It takes some bizarre mental gymnastics to see planes fly into buildings and claim that there was a simultaneous controlled demolition, even though there is not a single credible witness that saw explosives being planted over the course of several weeks.

        The point of all this is that every society has it’s own irrational peculiarities. They just manifest themselves in different forms. There’s a creationist museum in the United States and an Ancient Aliens museum in Switzerland. That one manifests itself in a more secular form doesn’t make a difference.

      • Alektorophile says:

        The “Ancient Aliens museum” in Switzerland, and I am assuming you are referring to the short-lived Daniken-inspired and Daniken-initiated loony “Mystery Park” in Interlaken, had to close down a few years ago for lack of visitors. The many creation museums in the US, on the other hand, seem to be doing fine and attracting quite a lot of visitors and official support. That, in itself, rather indicates that there is a fundamental difference between Europe and the US. Ever been to Europe?

      • Daniel says:

        Yes I have. It’s a nice place to visit, and I lived in England for about six months. It’s generally a pretty nice place to live, except for those few countries that are on the precipice of economic collapse due to enlightened welfare statism.

        And in my visits there, I can’t recall meeting anyone who was nearly as smug as you are. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that you’ve ever met any of those people in the US you feel so superior to.

      • Alektorophile says:

        Have I ever met anybody from the US? Let’s see, in addition to my wife, her family, other relatives of mine, and many friends and colleagues, actually quite a few more, given that I lived there for a third of my life, east and west and in between. Most of the people I know and met there are of course good and decent people, many are incredibly interesting and fun to be with, and many others aren’t. For example, particularly in TX, NM, CO, MT, and WY, the “fly-over states” I am most familiar with, casual racism and intolerance are too easy to find, and expressing such views seems to be generally socially acceptable, definitely more than anywhere in Europe I have been to. I’ve lost count of the times I almost choked on my food because of an otherwise seemingly decent person at the table uttering an anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, or anti-Native American idiocy. The same people are of course, in my experience, always deeply ignorant of the world and (what is much worse) not interested in learning about it, politically on the right, and in practically every single case deeply, unapologetically, disturbingly religious.

    • Sharyn says:

      25% of the population of the USA consider themselves
      evangelical Christians, Scarey Shit!

  3. Max says:

    Pat Condell on Sweden
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P39Dszzyw5I

    The Scandinavians are cruel to the kind and kind to the cruel. Jews are fleeing Sweden due to a rise in antisemitism, while Anders Breivik faces 21 years in a humane Norwegian prison for murdering 77 people.

    The suicide rate in Sweden is higher than in the U.S. It’s low in Mexico and Egypt.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

    The U.S. spends more on health and education than other countries. Minorities tend to drag down the average scores. Public schools in bad neighborhoods are essentially detention facilities.

    • Max says:

      “Remember, the Scandinavian countries were economic backwaters until they changed their political systems”

      Or until they discovered oil, kind of like Arab countries. Scandinavians just spread the wealth more evenly.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oil_production_Norwegian_North_Sea.PNG

    • Clara Nendleshaw says:

      I recently read about this on another site and I’ll quote one of the comments there in full, since it seems to describe the Swedish situation well (and some web searching corroborates the basic figures in it):
      It is very easy to explain why Sweden has the worst rape statistics in Europe. In Sweden, only 13% of reported rapes lead to any kind of legal proceedings. This is a reflection of the indifference of Swedish society; people in Sweden have been raped in public in broad daylight and bystanders just watch.
      And attitudes among immigrants are even worse and they have caught on to the fact that most likely they won’t face prosecution, leading to a spike in violent sex crimes. Rape statistics have about tripled since the 1950s and 80% of rapists are immigrants.
      And politicians do nothing. Rapist asylum seekers are not expelled. No effort is made to improve the standing of women in native Swedish society. No action on improving the prosecution of rapists is under way. It’s a crying shame; how can a politician look at his country and not act? How can people be so callous? It’s incomprehensible.

      • Janet Camp says:

        You list no sources and this makes no sense. It was widely reported at the time of Sweden’s effort to extradite Julian Assange, that Sweden has an almost too broad definition of rape and prosecutes it vigorously.

  4. Alektorophile says:

    Couldn’t agree more. As a European who spent a third of his life in the US, there have been many times when I was left speechless by what I can only describe as backward attitudes or statements I heard from otherwise, I am sure, good people in the US. I clearly remember, for example, how horrified I felt 7-8 years ago when I heard a caller (seemingly well-educated and a self-described “good christian”) during a radio discussion on healthcare assert that people did not deserve medical treatment if they hadn’t earned the money to pay for it themselves, lazy people deserved to die of their illness, this being America and not a communist country. Expressing such a barbaric view would, to put it mildly, be frowned upon in most European countries, while it seems rather acceptable and uncontroversial to too many Americans. Parts of the US sadly seem to be stuck in a pre-Enlightenment past.

  5. BillG says:

    Some Scandinavians rank high on “happiness”, likely not from green technology or their atrocious pop music – simply, be small and have plenty of oil/gas ready for export.

    Certainly we can do without a few wingnuts(Bachmann,Perry), but who rescued and rebuilt Europe? Those creationist bastards from accross the Atlantic.

    • Janet Camp says:

      We have more than “a few wingnuts” these days and it doesn’t seem to contribute to the current discussion that we “rebuilt” Europe. Why should that preclude our now learning from them?

    • Syd Foster says:

      If you think it was “Creationists” who won the second world war, you will be scratching your head wondering how come you guys can’t engineer your way out of your empire’s decline in the near future. Here’s a hint: lack of quality science and engineering graduates!

    • Loonyyy says:

      >Implying that at some point, a nation of Creationists saved and rebuilt Europe.

      >Implying that past performance always extrapolates to future performance.

      >Implying that being scientifically illiterate will help people.

      That’s a lot of assuming going on. By that tenuous reasoning, we could associate almost any group with anything, and justify all-around conservativism, even in science.

  6. Willy says:

    This implies that to be non-religious you need to be liberal. True, many atheists are liberals, but a large number are libertarians as well. They would support many things, but socialism is not one of them.
    They as tired of socialist ideas as they are of the religious right.

    It is good that Europe is less religious, but their socialism has not exactly bought them financial security or stability (I assume you read the news). It is clear that their problems stem from many sources, but it is equally clear that social spending is one of those. Clearly there is a limit to how much “government funded good” a society can afford.

    • Janet Camp says:

      Scandanavia is not part of what is ailing the European economy–as was pointed out in the post. Rather it is the more religious countries–also pointed out in the post.

      • Max says:

        What about Iceland?

      • tmac57 says:

        Iceland’s problems were brought on by their reckless banking practices.It had nothing to do with religion or socialism.Indeed, it was rampant,unchecked capitalism that brought them down.

      • Willy says:

        1) Read my post. I did not say Scandinavia was ailing. I think anyone who reads the news know what countries are concerned, it did not need repeating.

        2) The suggestion that religion is somehow responsible for the economic woes in the affected countries is unsupported by any documented causal relationship. Plain bad reasoning.

        2) Socialism (specifically it’s cost) OTOH, can be directly connected with the economic problems, where they exist. No one who has watched this develop can possibly deny that this is part of the problem. Not the whole problem, nothing is that simple, but certainly part of it. The “more religious” affected countries mentioned are still quite socialist by any measure.

        The fact that Germany and Scandinavia have not had the same issues despite their socialism merely speaks to the strength of their economies. They can still afford the cost. It remains to be seen for how long. The point I was making in the end is that there has to be a limit to socialist style spending. The problem is that there usually is not, these programs and the government that runs them only grow larger and consume more and more of the GDP. If limits are not in place, sooner or later it will be time to pay the piper.

  7. Daniel says:

    Wow, a blog devoted to skepticism relies on unscientific measures of “happiness” and anecdotal evidence of visits to friends in other countries and to the work of social science, which actually isn’t a science in any way, shape or form. (Left unmentioned were the extraordinarily high suicide and alcoholism rates in officially nonreligious states such as the Soviet Union and East Germany). Then, of course, is the fleeting mention that “happiness”, whatever that could possibly mean, in those other countries the author has visited might be the product of things that have nothing to do with religion or lack thereof, ethnic homogeneity, well-functioning welfare statism (or what P.J. O’Rourke called “Good Socialism”), and the like.

    As I’ve said before a few times here, I’m not at all religious, am worried about creationism being taught in public schools (although the sky isn’t falling in that regard, but that’s a story for another time), etc. But atheists have to disabuse this simplistic notion that the world would be a better place without religion. One really doesn’t have anything to do with the other. There are “happy” and “unhappy” religious and irreligious folks. I’m just throwing it out there that maybe it has to do with factors that are common to everyone, having a rewarding job, getting laid enough, not getting picked on at school, having a loving family, being physically healthy, your local professional sports team winning the championship. The list goes on, but you get the point.

    Also, if you’re really afraid of creeping “theocracy” in this country, you’re either a liar or a coward. If you actually see it as a real possibility or that it’s already here, you should be in open rebellion against the people who are ready to turn the country into Iran or Taliban controlled Afghanistan, rather than whining about it on your blog and twitter account. Otherwise, you don’t really believe it, and are just making a cheap rhetorical point. (To be fair, I say the same thing about people who claim this or that politician or political party is Hitler, Stalin, a Nazi or a Communist).

    • Daniel says:

      And to the author’s point of the fear of death of religious and irreligious people, I’ll venture a guess if you took a random sampling of atheists and bible thumpers and transported them back in time to the front lines of Stalingrad, on average, they’d be equally scared sh*tless.

      • BillG says:

        Agree. Fear may give us “no atheists in foxholes” and conversely, there’s no “true believers” either.

    • Old Rockin' Dave says:

      “There are “happy” and “unhappy” religious and irreligious folks.”

      “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” – George Bernard Shaw

      • Daniel says:

        Don’t know about you, but I find being drunk is actually a lot of fun some times. And actually, people who go out and have a few beers from time to time are a lot more interesting to be around than self-righteous teetotalers.

        In any event, I was merely addressing Prothero’s bizarre point that societies that are evidently less religious are somehow “happier.”

      • Syd Foster says:

        “people who go out and have a few beers from time to time are a lot more interesting to be around than self-righteous teetotallers.”

        Really? Inane repetitious conversations are more fun than all the subtleties and colours of time spent in real communication with intelligent friends?

        Either your life is very boring, or you are a very prejudiced man. Alcohol leaves me cold, but I can assure you I’m a lot more fun to trip with than any drunk… self-righteous or not! (And I’ve met a few self-righteous drunks in my time too, so your whole cliche is bollocks anyway.)

      • Daniel says:

        I think an inane repetitious conversation at a bar with Keith Richards would be much more enjoyable than communication with all the subtleties and colors of time with William Jennings Bryan. In fact, you would NEED to have a blood-alcohol content of at least .20 to get through the latter without gauging your eyeballs out.

  8. Max says:

    What I don’t get is how Europeans pay higher taxes than Americans, yet they spend less on health, education, defense, etc. Where does their tax money go? The public debt varies. Sweden’s is low, but Germany’s is over 80% of GDP, similar to the U.S.

    • Daniel says:

      Not to mention of course, that Europe’s taxation rates, generally anyway, are more regressive than the US. European countries have VATs (also known as a sales tax) that can run as high as 20 percent. Poorer people tend to consume a higher proportion of their income than wealthier people, hence a higher sales tax results in a greater percentage of their income being paid to the taxman.

    • Janet Camp says:

      They spend less on defense because they are not trying to maintain a so-called “superpower” status. They spend less on health care because they have universal care that doesn’t let things go until the person ends up in the emergency room and they negotiate for better pharma prices. They spend less on education because they don’t neglect large portions of their population (although this will become more of a problem in future, as mentioned in the post).

      Their tax money goes to ensure that everyone gets adequate housing, health care, education through college, and enough time off to spend with family and maintain physical and mental health.

      • Daniel says:

        May all be true, but it has its drawbacks. The government negotiating a “better price” is a price ceiling by another name. One of the few laws of economics they’ve actually managed to come up with demonstrates that when you put a price ceiling on anything, you tend to get less of it. It’s why you wait longer in line to get medical care in Canada than you do in the US. And, although admittedly it can’t really be proven, one could argue that US consumers pay more for pharmaceutical products because drug companies are trying to make up for the profits they lose in selling drugs in Canada. The argument goes further that if the US adopted a single payer like Canada, we’ll tend to get fewer life-saving drugs, and more stuff like Viagra which would be more profitable, because they could charge what they like for it.

        Most of the rest of the world is probably pretty happy that the US spends a lot of money on its military. They may not like things like the Iraq war, but they’re more than thrilled that the US Navy is there to make sure their exports can safely travel across the oceans.

        Like I say though, it all comes down to value judgments and trade-offs. It has nothing to do with how wise and reasoned one is.

  9. Daniel says:

    Geez, I’ve read this post a bit closer, and it’s even more nonsensical than I thought, or at the very least, has nothing to do with skepticism.

    Also thrown in there is a mini-polemic on the virtues of socialism and how utterly backward, theocratic and superstitious us other bumpkins are who don’t agree with it.

    Scandanavians not being dependent on foreign oil? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that at least one of them, Norway, has a ton of oil that they use to fund their welfare state. They’re somehow better because they (who the “they” is unclear) invest more in green technology. Go ask Spain what it got for is involuntary “investment” in green technology. Giant boondogle. What a moron I am for being a little ticked off that my tax dollars went to fund a bankrupt green technology company that was backed by the President’s buddies.

    Us US bible thumpers are so technologically backward? I didn’t realize they churn out bibles in Silicon valley, or that foreigners flock in groves to study at American universities.

    The point of all this is not to say that socialism is good or bad. Like any other socioeconomic system, it has its benefits and its drawbacks. The thing is we all make value judgments, which are unscientific, in deciding which system to ultimately choose. (Or in a non-homogenous federal democracy like the US, we tend to get a mishmash of things).

    What a screed like this is doing on a blog devoted to skepticism eludes me.

  10. Robert Hagedorn says:

    Google First Scandal.

  11. Lynn Dewey says:

    The benefits of living with no religion is simply great and such a giant leap forward for man, that I wrote a book about it. The E-book
    version is priced at $.99 simply to encourage readership. One
    can find BEYOND THE AGE OF MYTHOLOGY ON
    AMAZON OR Wordclay.com.

  12. JakeR says:

    Augh! You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. The only socialist countries I know of are North Korea and Cuba. European-style social welfare states are _not_ socialist. See OED: Socialism: 1. A theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all. 2. A state of society in which things are held or used in common.

  13. BobM says:

    I agree with Jake. In the rest of the world, government subsidised medicine is not regarded as socialism. Just a normal part of life. And since various right-wing governments have started chipping away at our public health system, we have had a resurgence of Third World diseases such as TB. In fact most people in the developed world outside of the US find it difficult to believe that there are people who think that if the poor cannot afford medical attention should be left to die. Or even simply stabilised in a hospital and then sent home without proper treatment/cure.
    Inequality tends to cause social unrest and crime, some of which was bled off in the US apparently by social mobility, which isn’t nearly as common as it was. Just sayin’.

  14. peter says:

    “It’s why you wait longer in line to get medical care in Canada than you do in the US.”

    Yes, but I get the medical care even if my company does not supply me with health insurance (i.e. self employed, which I was for a majority of my life)and can afford a total knee replacement without going into debt. I also have no fear that the insurance company for bogus reasons will deny my claim for assistance, and still going into debt.

    Don’t give me any bullshit about a healthcare system you know fuck all about.
    I have been living both in Germany and Canada with a public health care system and I do definitely not envy the US.

    “because drug companies are trying to make up for the profits they lose in selling drugs in Canada.”

    What are you talking about? Canada does not have a cost ceiling on drugs. Below a certain income in Canada you can join a drug plan, but all that does is giving a list of recommended prescription drugs to doctors to prescribe to patients that are members.
    Canada however has a law that time limits patents to drug manufacturers, after the expiry thereof generic drug producers can copy the drugs and bring it to the market cheaper.

    Canada spends less on health care because doctors are bound by the health care act to charge set fees for service, our hospitals are not profit driven but are run by boards and are tax payer funded.

    Similar circumstances apply in Germany.

    • Daniel says:

      I’m not trying to piss on Canada’s healthcare system, which has its benefits. But a single payer system, by definition, is a price ceiling system. I’ll add there’s a reason why some of the best doctors in the US are located in Buffalo. Wealthy Canadians go to get medical care from them. Still, different strokes for different folks. All I can say is my healthcare has been pretty good, so it’s worked for me.

      Really though, my point was more aimed at the author of the post (the weakest in this whole blog btw) who somehow equates reason and skepticism with a particular developed nation’s healthcare system. Maybe Canada does have it “right”, it just has nothing to do with the price of tea in China at least for purpose of what I thought this blog was all about.

    • Max says:

      Scotland released the Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi, in 2009 ostensibly on compassionate grounds based on his prognosis of 3 months to live. He lived almost 3 years, likely thanks to drugs not available in the UK.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-14580118

      Prof Kirby, of The Prostate Centre in London, said he believed the Lockerbie bomber was ‘almost certainly’ being kept alive by a drug called abiraterone. The hormone-based therapy has been passed for use in the US, but is not yet available to patients in Britain.
      Prof Kirby told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “They said he was incurable, write him off, he’s only got three months to live. That was their genuine belief, the doctors who advised [Justice Secretary] Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish government. Unfortunately I don’t think they were aware of these new treatments – such as abiraterone, which is transforming the prospects for patients with advanced prostate cancer. They just are living longer and longer.”

      Well I think they were aware of the treatment, but it’s not approved in the UK because it’s too expensive, so in the UK al-Megrahi would’ve lived 3 months.

  15. LovleAnjel says:

    Bike paths are a sign of a rational society?

  16. Tobias says:

    Who, besides me, braced for impact before moving on to the comments section?

    My dad really IS stronger than your dad, live with it!

  17. Trimegistus says:

    And if we’re worried about crazy religion influencing government, why is Mr. Prothero so blithely unconcerned about Jeremiah Wright’s bizarre racist theories, Louis Farrakhan’s weird ancient-astronauts beliefs, and other crackpots with direct access to President Obama?

    Oh, that’s right — only Republican religious beliefs are dangerous. People Mr. Prothero voted for can NEVER believe anything stupid.

    Is Skepticblog going to be nothing but reworded DNC press releases between now and November? I’m afraid Mr. Prothero is burning his skeptical credibility on the altar of Obama-worship.

    • tmac57 says:

      Speaking for myself,I would not be concerned with those two having any influence on Obama,because he is obviously a rational, moderate politician (despite the demagoguery of him by the right).
      The political right,on the other hand,openly espouses the idea of a Christian nation,and anti-science policies.

    • Loonyyy says:

      The difference is that the Republican candidates have been openly running as religiously motivated, and making their policy in reflection of that. It’s not a question of who’s religious. It’s a question of who’s not trying to get votes by being religious (Like Santorum in his terrible bit of Homophobia and pandering prior to his drop out), or those making decisions based on their beliefs (Pretty much everything Bachman was after).

      The problem isn’t with religion, or being religious, it’s with trying to use religion to be elected to the head of a secular nation, and then try to alter the nation into something religious rather than secular.

      I think we’d all like a reason for how acknowledging that the Republicans have a few problems with this blatant nonsense is Obama worship.

  18. Peter Ozzie Jones says:

    And Prof, don’t forget us lot down here!

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she has no intention of pretending to believe in God to attract religiously-inclined voters.

    From: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-06-29/gillard-wont-play-religion-card/885142

  19. Mustang55 says:

    “…arts budgets being slashed by a fanatical right-wing zealots who regard art as “immoral” or “liberal” or a superfluous luxury”

    I think that’s funny. These zealots are Christian, of the Christian god who told them not to create images. It’s a sin to do so, and yet how many churches and cathedrals and baptistries are adorned with vivid paintings, vast frescoes, and ornate reliefs? And then they come back and claim that art is useless and a luxury. The Church spent countless sums on visualizing the heavenly and devout and god never wanted it in the first place. So, who’s in heaven?

  20. Erik says:

    So many of the leaders in the sceptical movement have links to ACSH, who fought for the republicans in the last election, so maybe soon the sceptical republicans will be a reality,and of course they will be christians.

  21. Godless Poutine says:

    Hi Donald,

    Thanks for linking to my blog (22% of Quebecers consider themselves religious).

    Having lived in this province for almost 20 years now, I have written a few pieces on my blog concerning the “social experiment” of highly-secular Quebec in North America. Perhaps it’s the language barrier that seems to have left American atheists overlooking this anomaly in North America.

    If you’re interested, there are articles on the THOUSANDS of churches at risk of being abandoned along with the increased pace of secularization here (all good things) under the label “quebec”.

    http://mysecretatheistblog.blogspot.ca/search/label/quebec

    Feel free to delete this if you think it spam.

    Thanks!

    – GP

  22. umbrarchist says:

    Does anyone ever consider the possibility that God regards religion as stupid trash and that religion is nothing but some people pretending they know more about God than everybody else?

    But wouldn’t God have to know about Relativity? So if it is in the Bible 1800 years ago then…

    http://www.quantumcritics.com/20080302438/miscellaneous/general/star-trek-meets-the-bible.html