Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Folk Atheism" in Europe

You may have seen the Guardian article floating around that stated a 2012 survey in "was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 in eastern Germany who believed in God." Of course, this provokes discussion of how hard the surveyors looked, but the point remains that Europe is an increasingly un-religious place, and eastern Germany possibly the most un-religious part of it. Not surprisingly, either. Communism was infamous for being unfriendly to religion - after all, ideologies based on arguments from authority generally don't play well together. (Try to figure out whether North Korea's Juche is a religion or political system and you'll see what I mean.)

One immediately interesting thing about this is that this basic fact - East Germans can now choose any religion they want, yet they're choosing none - is a problem both for the rational choice theory of religion, as well as the idea that religion is the "natural" state of humans, to which societies return in the absence of some outside force (like a communist government.) And as with other strongly secular societies (also including Scandinavian countries and Japan), eastern Germany's rapidly improving development index and low crime rate are a big problem for arguments that religion is required for morality.

But most salient to me in this discussion is the idea of "folk atheism", as opposed to...what? Centralized atheism? "Folk" atheists are these modern eastern Germans who are atheist all on their own, in their own way, without a central organizing force. "Well duh," you might say (like I did at first), "what other kind is there?" Go to China or North Korea, and you will see. And the same people who are unquestioning atheists in China would probably be unquestioning Baptists in Texas or unquestioning Shi'a in Iran. Thinking about folk atheism versus official state atheism, it becomes clearer that rationalists should have a problem not just with supernatural beliefs, but with any argument from authority. Especially ones with political power. Anyway, it's a good article and worth reading.

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