Does Atheism Lower Crime and Make Us Happy?

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” –G.K. Chesterson

A minority of people claim this life is all there is and we should simply make the best of it while we are here. They believe that ultimately when they die they become a gourmet meal for maggots. They think they can be reduced to molecules in motion, machines that can be reduced to the periodic table that simply dance to the music of their DNA (page 133). They believe only material things exist without thinking for a moment that it took immaterial logic to come to that conclusion. Forget about trying to account for immaterial things like love, compassion, hope, justice, joy, and meaning. They think these things are illusory.

Most people of this type attempt to use their atheism to say that religion (specifically Christianity) poisons everything and atheist leaning countries are more enlightened, happier, and have less crime.  The countries cited by the atheist are usually in Western Europe or one of the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark.

Is Denmark really happy or is it artificial?

I have a couple of problems with this kind of thinking.  First, it has never been proven that atheism is the source of a less criminal culture and this notion should be flatly rejected until a level of evidence would tip the balance toward such a view. Second, when I hear someone make such a claim I begin to research some of the history myself and not simply take their word for it.  Thankfully, I have history resources and a number of friends who are educated in the area of European history as it relates to cultural evolution.

Thinking about the northern and western European areas, it’s important to see how the area changed over the centuries.  In a book by David Landes, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Landes writes about tenth century Europe and he describes it like this:  “In the tenth century, Europe was just coming out of a long torment of invasion, plunder, and rapine, by enemies from all sides.  So terrifying were these marauders [the Vikings], so ruthless their tactics (taking pleasure in tossing babies in the air and catching them on their lances or smashing their heads against the wall), that the very rumor of their arrival [sent everyone running]” (pages 29 and 30).

David Marshall said this about what happened to the culture (specifically Denmark) since then:  “So 1000 years ago, the ancestors of modern Danes were sacrificing maidens and cruising the North Sea looking to pick up some monastic bling. Now they’re riding bicycles to flower shops in Copenhagen. What happened?  To make history very simple, and maybe overly simple, the Gospel happened.”  Now there are obviously thousands upon thousands of pages that could be written on this topic and the evidence behind it but this is a blog, not a book.  The point is clear.

We know from history that indeed Christianity brought civility to this part of the world and later birthed science as we know it and what a Godsend these things have been!  To further the point would take far longer to develop but it is certainly not the decline of Christianity and the rise of atheism that has spawned less crime in western and northern Europe.  A couple of points come to mind.  First, many god-less countries legalize drug use and do not view it as a criminal issue which is a polar opposite stance of the United States.  This would include the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Denmark, and others (by the way, I’m not here to debate the politics of drug liberalization.  Clearly the “War on Drugs” has been a failure).  In addition to various drug deregulations, these countries also legalize many other forms of questionable behavior such as prostitution, assisted suicide, child suicide, bestiality, etc.  Moreover, some of these countries have extremely restrictive gun laws where oftentimes handguns aren’t just restricted, they are banned.  Yet none of this evidence points directly toward religion or atheism.  It has to do with decriminalization laws.  When you decriminalize actions and behaviors that once were criminalized, it stands to reason that crime rates will fall!  In this case, lower crime rates do not happen because you’re an atheist.  In this case, lower crime rates happen because of decriminalization.  How one interprets the data is what is important here.  Remember this:  the numbers don’t say anything on their own.  The people interpreting the numbers say everything.  

And to further the point allow me to punctuate it with the following exclamation.  Correlation does not adequately explain causation!  I could claim that America has NFL football. Then I could claim that America is the most charitable country on Earth. The consistent atheist may try to claim that NFL football increases charitable giving. Now we know that’s crazy talk but you can see that correlation does not equate to causation.

I want to end this post with this article in the New York Post.  Enjoy!

P.S.  I have three people awaiting a post from me on the subject of objective morality.  I apologize for not having it posted sooner.  When I’m doing a study I have to complete what I’m doing before moving on.  And on top of that, these things take time and I do not sit around and “blog” all day long.  I have a job, a family, and a life so please be patient with me.  🙂

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2 thoughts on “Does Atheism Lower Crime and Make Us Happy?”

  1. It’s not so much that atheism reduces crime it’s more that religion increases it. If you have a false idea of the nature of reality and in particular of the nature and purpose of morality you increase the likelihood of behaving badly. In a nutshell, error in belief leads to error in action.

    Some immaterial things do exist but your thoughts and love are not among them. They have their representation in your material brain as electrical and chemical signals.

    I have news for you. Most atheists in the world don’t think about philosophical matters like materialism. They’re just not interested. They’re busy getting on with life and paying attention to the things they are interested in. They are not anti-religious. They are just uninterested. Most Danes are nominal members of the state church. But not many believe in God. They enjoy the festivals. For them the church means cultural tradition.

    Your view that Christianity made the Vikings less barbaric is questionable. The Scandinavians were just as warlike as other Europeans until modern times. Their non warlike nature roughly coincides with their secularisation. But I accept that secularisation also does not necessarily lead to peacefulness. I think in the case of the Scandinavians it was just civilisation.

    Lower crime rates in Scandinavia have not happened by decriminalising large numbers of previous crimes. I certainly accept that decriminalising drug use would lower the crime rate at least until organised crime thought up some new scams. It’s not that atheism leads to less crime it’s that social democracy leads to less crime and more atheism. People guaranteed a comfortable lifestyle free from existential anxiety need neither to commit crimes nor to believe in a supernatural saviour. They’ve got most of what they need already.

    For your information Norway does not have restrictive gun laws unless they’ve changed recently. How do you think Anders Breivik got his armoury? Despite the Anders Breivik episode Norway’s murder rate is still well below that of the US, less than half.

    1. Thanks for the comment gordonhide. I disagree with most of what you said but I understand your position.

      When you say most atheists are not anti-religious, that may be true of a “purist” atheist. That is precisely how an atheist should live if he is to be consistent. This blog is aimed at learning to respond to the “new atheists,” that is to say, the atheists who are severely anti-religious and attack it with contempt such as Dawkins, Harris, Krauss, Singer, and the late Christopher Hitchens. These guys love to talk theology and religion which boggles my mind. That’s the kind of atheism that is dealt with on this page.

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