Note: I am talking about an atheist society - which has clear and discernible characteristics; and I am not talking about every single individual self-described atheist - atheists of course vary extremely widely.
As do Christians; and in fact most modern Christians are indistinguishable form atheists expect in terms of a few superficial 'lifestyle' features.
So what advantages are there to being an atheist society?
Well, let us first consider the dis-advantages.
These relate to the transcendental 'Goods' of Virtue, Beauty and Truth:
1. Virtue. Atheist societies are very recent - only abut a century old; but already include most of the most evil societies in the history of the world - the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Germany under National Socialism, the communist regimes of Pol Pot and current North Korea.
So atheism is at best a big disadvantage if you want a virtuous society; and quite possibly makes a virtuous society impossible.
(Of course, this is obscured because atheist societies are perfectly free to redefine evil as good - as in all the above examples.)
2. Beauty. From the industrial revolution onwards, the rise of secularism has - on the whole - correlated with the decline of beauty and the rise of ugliness. Any backlash against this decline in the beautiful has tended to be religious (if not necessarily Christian).
(Again, this is obscured since atheism is free to redefine the ugly as beautiful; so the arts have become more and more purposefully ugly, while claiming that this deliberately evoked disgust, boredom and alienation is actually a higher and more refined type of beauty.)
3. Truth. The most fully atheist societies are the least honest; since they have no reason for being honest about anything at any time - except expediency, and it is often expedient to lie.
The totalitarian atheist dictatorships are therefore a bye word for systematic falsehood; and modern secular Western societies have made giant strides in the same direction in the past half century.
We could also say that atheist societies are more miserable than Christian societies; and almost certainly atheists are on average much less-happy than devout Christians.
So, in conclusion: atheist societies are - on the whole - lying, ugly, evil and miserable.
So! What are their advantages?
Well, the main advantage of secularism - and this is an advantage which overwhelms all disadvantages for increasing numbers of people; is that in an atheist society there is no compelling reason not to do whatever it is you want to do, and to do it here and now; if you get the opportunity and can get away with it.
And there we have it - Ladies and Gentlemen!
The trump card advantage for atheist societies over all other previous and possible societies.
in fact most modern Christians are indistinguishable form atheists expect in terms of a few superficial 'lifestyle' features.
I've heard this occasionally, usually as a bit of snark: "See, you Christians are hypocrites..." etc, etc. I don't see how it's defensible. Christians do things like overseas mission trips, massive amounts of charity, and abstention from major sins.
To the extent that the above may be true, it's NOT an indictment of Christian behaviour. It's testament to the endurance of Christian norms, and to the universality of moral intuition - evidence, in other words, that society hasn't "degraded" as much as we may think.
@SJ - I have read a lot of survey data on self-identified Christians, and what I sez is true of many/ most denominations - especially with respect to the sexual revolution.
It is not true of devout Christians of orthodox/ traditional denominations - but of the mass of *self-identified* Christians - sure...
If an atheist notices this post, he will furiously insist that the Nazis were Christians -- "Hitler was a Catholic!"
the main advantage of secularism - and this is an advantage which overwhelms all disadvantages for increasing numbers of people; is that in an atheist society there is no compelling reason not to do whatever it is you want to do, and to do it here and now; if you get the opportunity and can get away with it.
And yet, who would describe the USSR, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, or current North Korea as a society in which you get to do whatever you want, and do it here and now?
If that's the direction we're going, the hedonists had best beware that their idleness and pleasure-seeking will not be tolerated under the new progressive regime.
Incidentally, here is a society of secular pleasure-seekers who have, ironically, given up on what is supposedly the chief pleasure in life because it is too much work. They are too torpid even to fornicate, much less breed.
Fascinating column Bruce.
Japan is extreme in a number of respects including the twin pulls of tradition and social innovation driven by technological innovation. The population density is very high in many Japanese cities, and this adds stress which causes some interesting reactions in social animals. (See "The Hidden Dimension" by Edward T. Hall, which although dated in some ways gets the gist of it. You will no doubt have a much deeper and comprehensive understanding based on your professional work.)
That said: The urban density issue is not unique to Japan, and neither is ambition, desire for creature comforts and the quiet prejudice against pregnancy in the workplace. A lot of expectations have been inculcated which translate into lower birth rates, and a desire for emotional and life stability over the roller-coaster ride of emotions and compromises that entail from intimacy. (I see love, sex and intimacy as engendering one type of neurochemically driven set of states versus the cocaine-like set driven by video-games, gambling, intense competition, et cetera. And again, you will know this in far greater detail than I do.) These two seem to be at odds, causing internal schism concerning wants and needs. And it may be that many people simply become addicts to certain states that result from participation in high-density, high-intensity urban life. It can come to an awful crash though as many drug addictions. It is just that in this case the addiction is endogenous, and stimulated through an inculcated lifestyle. Breaking out of that is an extremely vexing problem. This may be more of a problem for the ambitious and intelligent, who often are blind to the addictions which dovetail with their ambitions. Hence, higher IQ people tending to have less children than those who are locked out of the power-game due to their intellectual limitations.
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