What happens to societies with majority non-religious people?


As a non-religious person I am interested in seeing what a world without religion would look like.

Although I personally do not believe religion is needed for for individuals to behave morally, I also wonder is religion does fill a purpose to coerce basic moral behavior upon a segment of the population who would not otherwise behave very nicely.

What areas of the world have lost religion? What changes can be attributed to the mass loss of religious belief?

I’m living in China right now.
Most people that I’ve met are not religious, and of those that are, they aren’t really religious in the western sense. Taoism and buddism are more like revered traditions rather than (generally) making claims about reality, or saying “do this – or else”.

And…morality-wise…there seems to be the same proportion of kind acts to spitefulness as anywhere else (that is, thankfully; much more of the former).

In many European countries now, truly religious people are a minority and have been for some time. My advice to the OP: travel a little.

Visit the Netherlands and see for yourself.

Having not visited the Netherlands, and without any snark intended in the query, please describe your observations. I am curious.

According to Wiki…

Yet in terms of morality - New Zealand rates very noticeably better than the US in anti-corruption rankings, and has a lower crime rate…so would that qualify as “morality” for you?

Based on what I can tell, one effect is that they start having a lot fewer children.

I tend to be annoyed when people start throwing up the Scandinavian countries as examples in issues of public policy, but for a question like this one, they’re quite appropriate. Here’s(nytimes) a good link -

To expand on the degree of irreligiosity. From wikipedia

Not much to explain. The Netherlands is a pretty secular society. Many churches are just quaint museum pieces harkening back to a less-enlightened era.

According to wikipedia 27% of French people believe in god, 27% believe in some sort of spirit or life force, 40% don’t believe in any such thing…

…however France has one of the highest, if not the highest birth rate in Western Europe (generally attributed to benefits for parents and availability of public day-nursery) while the much more religious Italy (74% of believers according to wikiopedia) has one of the lowest (if not the lowest) birth rate in Europe.

So, there’s not always a relationship between religiosity and birth rate.

A (G)god(s) that never punishes even the worst “misbehavior” is far less coercive than a society that punishes any “misbehavior”.

CMC fnord!

And it’s a pretty nice place, IMHO.

Actually, it’s the religious who are considered problematic. One small group being our little Bible Belt, where they haven’t been vaccinating, which causes outbreaks of childhood diseases. Which makes everyone else sigh: bloody religious cooks, put a wall around 'em.

The other group is the Muslims. Now this perception is partially nasty xenophobia and partially some real socio-economic problems. The Muslim minority is not causing problems because they are Muslims. Still, it’s the religious who are in this case associated with immorality and it certainly doesn’t seem like their religion is coercing them in any way to behave.

I think this is a great example of why it is wrong to generalize and ascribe similar traits to many varied religions, just as it is wrong to generalize and ascribe similar traits to many varied non-religious societies. The variations are just too many and too wide.

I suspect that the question can’t be answered, because it is too general. It would depend in great measure (perhaps entirely) on what ideas and philosophies fill the void which was formed by this “mass loss of religious belief”. Communism? Anarchy? Hippies? There are many possibilities.

One big difference I keep hearing about between the US on the one side and the “other” former colonist-descended former British colonies (especially Oz and NZ) is that the US is much more religious. In the US, it’s more or less assumed in many areas that you are a believer and in other areas it may not be presumed but it is certainly not socially stigmatized. In Australia - not so much.

Why do you feel there would be a void that needs to be filled? To my understanding, nothing replaced religion in the Netherlands when they eschewed it in large measure. Nor do I see religion being replaced with anything else in nations where belief and practice have begun to decrease noticeably, such as in England.

Also, if there were a void to be filled, why would it be by communism, anarchy, or hippies? None of those are necessarily exclusive of religion. An environment can be communistic and remain religious. I think a theistic environment would breed more anarchic tendencies than an atheistic one. I have no idea where you’re going with hippies.

I lived in Japan for 25 years and they managed to not be mass murders even with only a very small percent being particularly religious.

As more and more countries become less religious better stats will become available on things like alchohol consumption drug use both legal and illegal. Other compulsive behaviours such as gambling, sex addiction, etc. I know quite a few people who if asked will say they are christian but admit that they rarely ever even think of god much less pray.

Another thing that is hard to guage is how will the world change when atheisim becomes the accepted norm. Social pressure is still excerted on countries to some extent by thier neighbors who still have a majority of religious.

    The biggest fear I have is that decisions that many of us simply rest in a higher authority whatever that may be will be made by men who feel a very real responsibility to steer the ship. In most cases I am sure this would work out fine but a very charismatic, eloquent speaker may very well get enough support from the masses to do things we would normally think unthinkable. Many of these very unthinkable things could be based on very sound logic if you were only considering financial and social implications.

Yeah, I guess I was way too unclear. Sorry about that. All I meant was that I can’t imagine a society that doesn’t have some sort of goals, aspirations, ideals, that sort of thing. If it’s not devotion to God, then it will be something else. Mother, the flag, and apple pie. Truth, justice, and the American way. Peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. Whatever. And of course it won’t be monolithic, but lots of subcultures, each with their own ideas. Some will be more organized and others not.

And then, depending on the goals and ideas of the people, one might see these changes or those changes, some for the better and some for the worse. And way too varied to generalize about.

My daughter lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-vaxxers, and definitely not a hotbed of church goers. I don’t think any inference can be drawn. Our family doctor says that parents who refuse vaccinations are child abusers.

Getting back to the OP, I know lots of atheists and see nothing especially immoral about them. I am not sure any of these things are connected.

One thing that does impress me (but not enough to start believing in god) is stories of people in prison who get religion and reform themselves.

Although this thread is staying barely in GQ territory now, this topic inevitably finds itself in Great Debates, so I have preemptively moved the thread there.