When I read that Sweden is shifting to a six hour work my initial comment was, “They did it again!” Sweden and its neighbours have been exemplary in pretty much every of aspect of society. The Nordic countries have high income equality, large tax-financed welfare programs, powerful unions, relatively low unemployment rates and an education system that is second to none. It may not always be easy to copy the Swedish model because it grew out of their specific geography, size, history, natural endowments and their general temperament. Many have attributed the country’s social democracy model as the key to their success.
During my rumination of Sweden and its neighbours, it occurred to me that these countries apart from the obvious geographic and economic difference from other countries, they had one major difference from most countries. They are atheists. The percentage varies depending on the source, but the story is the same. The majority of the country is atheistic. The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism (2012) reported that the only 29% of Swedes claim to be religious. Could this be a differentiating factor in explaining why they have enviable social welfare programs?
It is my conjecture that this lack of religious dogma makes them more practical and logical. This allows them to circumvent a lot of years of haggling and allow social evolution to take place in a systemic order. It is interesting that even the Church of Sweden has been known to accompany liberal social change rather than obstructing it.
Being atheistic does not mean being immoral or unethical, if anything, it seems that atheistic countries are better able to provide for their citizens than those countries who are steeped in religion. While there needs to be more research and more rigours analysis, I did find some rudimentary evidence for my hypothesis. It comes in the form of the Social Progress Index. Norway and Sweden ranked first and second in the world for providing basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, opportunity and freedom to their population.
These countries are may just be on to something. Religion is a very personal and sensitive and complex subject. It has profound implications for both the individual and society. Fundamental truths don’t change or wane in the face of examination. It should be okay to ask the hard questions and challenge the validity of religious claims and not offend anyone. If your position is solid and can’t be shaken, it will withstand rigours testing. However, if things start to crumble when the questions start, then, then any rational person will have to re-examine their position regarding their belief system.
I am not proposing atheism nor am I proposing following any particular religious path blindly. My contention is that before we buy into any religious belief system we take the time to investigate, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism or Buddhism, I encourage you to use your powers of discernment to see if it all really makes sense.
I choose to believe in something that is more than a sum of its parts. I choose to believe that there is a “force” that is constantly evolving. We see it in nature. Everything finds a way to express itself. Perhaps homosexuality and gender re-identification, for instance, are different forms of biological evolution and is independent of any particular social construct.
One thing we can be sure of is that as humans and society we are constantly evolving. To try to hold on to ideological dogmas may be hurting society in more ways than one. Divorcing religious dogma from practical living seems to have worked well for the Nordic countries. When the citizens of a country are taken care of and are not struggling to survive it may allow them to ponder these philosophical questions at a deeper level.
At the end of the day if we are really honest with ourselves, nobody really knows anything. We are making it up as we go along. We learn from the past, make adjustments and move on. From the scientist who postulates, to the pundits who preach, no one can claim to know it all. No one has THE ANSWER. Maybe there is NO one right answer. Perhaps life is not about having a right or wrong experience. Maybe it’s JUST about having an experience.
While these Nordic countries are in no way immune to problems, they seem to be able to cope better. Perhaps letting go of antiquated religious dogma and stepping into contemporary reasoning, have allowed the Nordic countries to flourish. The Social Progress Index may be indicative of how much can be accomplished when people are treated on an equal footing as just people and not as a particular group or sect in society. It looks like the end result is beneficial, both socially and economically.