By Amanda Marcotte | 28 August 2012
A lot of non-believer writers and activists focus, rightly, on the continuing lack of acceptance in many societies and nations of those who profess no belief in religion. Keeping an eye on what’s not working is the first step toward making improvements. Still, in many places around the world, this is an unprecedented era for non-believers of freedom and social acceptance. In the spirit of celebrating the amount of progress secularism has made around the world, here’s a list of eight of the best countries in which to be a non-believer.
1) Czech Republic. Many former communist nations saw their populations eagerly run back to the forbidden religions as soon as they were free to do so, demonstrating that the least effective way to spread atheism around is by mandate. The Czech Republic hasn’t seen any such return to religion, however; only 21% of its citizens consider religion an important part of their daily lives. They seem to be hanging on to secularism for roughly the same reason that they do pretty well in international sports competitions. Unlike most Eastern European nations, the Czech Republic rates high on the United Nation’s Human Development Report. It hasn’t been riddled by the corruption and authoritarian attitudes that dominate other former communist nations, such as Russia. A mountain of evidence demonstrates that stable, egalitarian economies correlate strongly with higher rates of atheism. It seems that the government’s demonstration of faith in its people and commitment to their well-being has gone a long way towards keeping the citizens from rekindling religious faith, whereas in places like Russia, where citizens are more desperate, looking to God for answers perhaps becomes more appealing.
2) Sweden & 3) Denmark. It might not seem immediately obvious why high numbers of non-believers in a country would make life better for atheists, but the examples of Sweden and Denmark show why this is true. When non-belief or even outright atheism is widespread, atheists can go about their lives free from the fear that their lack of belief will cause people to mistrust, hate, or even discriminate against them. These two countries, in which only 17% and 18%, respectively, of the population consider religion important, have become icons of secularist values to the rest of the world. Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., spent a little more than a year talking to citizens to find out why. He discovered that your average Danish or Swedish citizen simply doesn’t think much about religion; in these two cultures, religion has largely been relegated to a ceremonial role. For the typical atheist who likes to have a Christmas tree without the burden of having to believe in the Virgin Birth, the Danish and Swedish attitude towards religion should fit like a cozy sweater.
4) Austria. In an effort to satirize Austria’s allowance of religious headgear in driver’s license photos, Niko Alm applied for the right to be photographed with a pasta strainer on his head, which he claimed was the official headgear of the Pastafarian faith. The “faith” in question is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was established by pranksters in 2005 in order to demonstrate the pulled-out-of-their-asses aspects of some religious dogma. Alm claims the government hassled him about the license, but police insist that they issued it promptly and he simply failed to collect it. Regardless of the real story, it seems the government now wants it to be clear it gives no special treatment to a faith because it judges one kind of believer more authentic or sincere than another. While this incident might seem like small potatoes, it demonstrates a kind of absolute secularism that takes no opinion on faith whatsoever is the gold standard that secularists should strive for.
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