Global Peace Index Shows Least Religious Countries Among Most Peaceful, Highly Religious Countries Among The Least Peaceful

Canterbury Atheist points out that the world’s top ten peaceful nations on the 2010 Global Peace Index are among the world’s least religious nations. CORRECTION:  I should have written, among the world’s top ten peaceful nations are a high percentage of the world’s least religious countries, measured in terms of personal religiosity metrics (like reports that “religion is very important in daily life” and church attendance statistics, see the comments below this post for documentation).

Here they are (with their 2009 ranking):

New Zealand (1 in 2009)
Iceland (4)
Japan (7)
Austria (5)
Denmark (2)
Finland (9)
Sweden (6)

And the bottom ten (and their 2009 ranking) are:

Iraq (1)
Somalia (3)
Afghanistan (2)
Sudan (5)
Pakistan (8)
Israel (4)
Russia (9)
Chad (7)
Congo (6)

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Eggface

    Atheists are clearly no less propagandist and prone to misinformation than the religious. On what basis are those first ten the world’s least religious? Separation of church and state? Proportion of people professing a faith? Proportion of people attending places of worship? While the religious believe in a superior being, atheists believe in their own superiority over others, and that renders them equally stupid. The bottom 4 on the list of least peaceful nations hardly rank as being among the world’s most religious nations on any of those scores, but one wouldn’t extrapolate from a sample of four. This is not just bad logic, it’s bad arithmetic.

    • Daniel Fincke

      I’ll give it you that I phrased my introduction of the list woefully inaccurately. I should have written, least religious nations among most peaceful, not most peaceful among the least religious. I will correct it. Thanks.

      Nonetheless, I stand by the implication that the correlations here presented are important and that the top 10 is made up of predominantly irreligious countries (among the individual people) and the bottom ten is made up of predominantly religious countries (among the people).

      I meant to say that least religious nations make up an impressive number of the top 10, not to say that all the top 10 ranked among the top 10 peaceful. I don’t think as written it implies a direct 1:1 correlation or anything. And I never said the bottom ten were all among the very most religious, but it should be clear just from looking at the two lists of names that we’re looking at predominantly secularized places in the top 10 and predominantly non-secularized places in much of the bottom 10.

      Let’s look at the secular bona fides of the top 10:

      According to Gallup research conducted between 2006-2008 ,, these are the percentages of people who say religion plays an important part of their daily life: Sweden 17%, Denmark 18%, Norway 20%, Japan 25%. So that’s four of the 8 least personally religious countries (out of hundreds of countries)who just happen to appear in this year’s top 10 most peaceful countries list. That is just “propaganda” for me to point out a general correlation?

      This chart comparing the church attendance of 53 countries places Russia last at 2% (a point against the correlation I’m advancing, since they’re also one of the least peaceful). But Japan is #52, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Sweden are all ranked #48 with 4% church attendance. Denmark? 5% church attendance, ranked #45. That’s 6 particularly non-devout countries in the top 10 most peaceful countries list. Only Ireland from the top 10 peaceful ranks very highly in church attendance (84%).

      As for New Zealand, the most peaceful country on the ranking, it is a country where 43.2% either do not specify their religion or have no religion.

      A 1979 law forbids collection of religion statistics in Luxembourg. But only 44% outright believe in a God, 28% only believe in a spirit or life force and 22% believe in neither a God or life force. Actual believers in God (not just in a vague, life force or spirit less likely to correlate with religious devotion), in the top 10 most peaceful countries? 16% in Estonia, 23% in Sweden, 31% in Denmark, 32% in Norway, 38% in Iceland, 41% in Finland, 44% in Luxembourg, 54% in Austria, 73% in Ireland, all according to that 2005 data on Eurpoean countries.

    • Drew

      @ Eggface,

      Some of those top least religious nations have a state church tax that every citizen is born to pay unless they go through a tedious opt out process so they no longer have to pay a church tax. So you can definitely throw out the Separation of Church & State question you had.

      As for atheists believing in their own superior over others, now you’re just talking out of your own ass with stereotypical type gibberish.

  • Jonathan

    It’s a bold, bald assertion. See:

    esp. the conclusion:

    “[..] a post hoc argument claims that A caused B simply because A preceded B. Because precedence is necessary but not sufficient for a factor to cause an effect, post hoc arguments are at best fallacious and at worst ridiculous. You will want to avoid them and support your causal claim with solid evidence.”

    • Daniel Fincke

      I didn’t claim a causal connection, I drew attention to correlations. Why? What’s the difference? Because atheists are commonly confronted with the trope that religion is inherently necessary for morality and that atheism is inherently a threat to morality. Simply pointing out that morality is thriving pretty well by a major indicator in the comparatively least religious countries shows that the thesis that atheism (or, more accurately, the de facto atheism of only nominalistically religious people) does not necessitate decreased morality but can be compatible with many of the most peaceful nations in the world.

      This does not prove that either atheism or de facto atheism or secularism, etc. are the direct or primary causes of the peace in these countries. But what it does show is that the argument that atheism, or de facto atheism at least, cannot cannot be compatible with morality in principle, is false.

      And that’s something sufficient to show just by pointing out correlations without venturing at all (as I did not) to posit causation which would be harder to prove.

      (I would even argue that the de facto atheism of these various countries is likely as much byproduct of peace as its cause, for example.)

      And when it comes to the peacefulness of the one highly devout nation in the whole top 10, it is clear that when religious identities were prioritized most Ireland was among the world’s least peaceful nations. Only a truce between religious factions, not a fuller embrace of religious fervor and commitment to the importance of religious distinctions, brought that peace.

    • Jonathan

      Thanks for making this explicit. You can see how easy it was to mistakenly assume a less nuanced polemic intent from the original, posting though?

      The Northern Ireland issue is a good exemplar of a highly complex situation where teasing apart diachronic political, racial, and religious motivations and identities is not at all simple. The paragraph starting “And when it comes [..]” is simplistically tendentious on this point.

      That said, your point on ignorant assumptions regarding the possibility of ethical atheism is well taken.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Yes, I can see how someone can infer I was implying actual proof of causation and not merely correlation since that conclusion would be tempting for an atheist advocate and I give evidence here that is at least consistent with a causation conclusion.

    In my defense though, all I had written was a title and a sentence and both only mentioned correlations and said not one positive word about causations, so I’m pretty sure reader assumptions about my assumptions had to play a healthy role in seeing a major polemic and major claims hidden in there. If I was really frothing at the mouth triumphalistically thinking my cause had just won, I might have actually spelled out all the reasons why I thought we’d won the war with this one correlation.

    Maybe this is something I need to work on and be more careful about, but when I write really short blog posts presenting what I take to be merely factual observations or when I quote someone or some study with little commentary, I do not intend to be making an actual argument. I assume that people who have read my actual arguments would know that I only argue with painstaking nuances which make for densely written, very long blog posts with long, highly qualified sentences and extensive digressions and usually frequent cross links to other posts.

    In other words, I stand behind my actual argumentative pieces as being committed to careful and conscientious argument, and so don’t expect that people will assume that when I write a simple title and one sentence about correlations that I think I can make a major polemical point that can stand on its own. This of course might be naive on my part. Regardless of my own self-perception as philosophically careful and not merely a polemicist (though, of course, admittedly a partisan), I may just have to be more aware that readers rightfully read me with an alert eye on my possible prejudices and may think they see them wherever I have not deliberately taken care to provide nuances.

    I always get in the most trouble when I am making my quickest, most off-handed posts where I am merely trying to pass on information for others to interpret or to make a quick point about a quickly presented news story.

  • Daniel Fincke

    oh yes, and on Ireland, I do not mean to imply that there were not a number of other factors besides religion at play. My point was that religious fervor exacerbated tensions, not that it was the sole cause of them. Were people to have been doubling down on their Catholicism and their Protestantism in their hearts and minds during the peace negotiations, it would have been as bad as if they were doubling down on their political or racial identities during them. Because their religious identities were playing a constitutive role in those identities (and vice versa).

    And this is one of the dangers of religion. It creates incommensurable identities.

  • Jonathan

    Oh, reader assumptions did play a big part :)

    I don’t understand your use of the “doubling down” idiom (google says it’s something to do with blackjack?). Upping the ante, whilst increasing the risk? Taking their professed religion seriously would’ve had a profound impact on the Troubles.

    There were religiously motivated people (as well as non-religiously motivated people) working hard at the peace process.

    It’s not as simple as the picture I’m see you paint – though again, that will include some viewer bias :)

    Bad Religion is bad. So is Bad Atheism. In each historical instance there are contingent circumstances. I don’t see why protagonists for either religion or atheism think that this is a worthwhile line to pursue.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Yes, that’s what I mean by doubling down.

      It’s not really atheism per se that is the point, it’s rationalistic secularism that I think makes the difference. I am no fonder of irrationalistic atheism than I am of irrationalistic theism. The problem is that “Faith” is an inherently irrationalistic commitment—that’s what distinguishes it from “belief apportioned to evidence” and “trust apportioned to evidence”. If you go through the Disambiguating Faith series, starting with the first one listed in the Recommended Posts list and then follow them out in order, you’ll see my account of how I think this works.

      What I most oppose is really faith and specific bad beliefs. A particular religious person or institution likely has many practices that are rationally defensible or even admirable. That particular religious person or institution may share with me any number of rationally defensible beliefs. To the extent though that a religious person or institution promotes the explicit and willful adoption of beliefs despite insufficient evidence or counter-evidence, that person or institution promotes an intrinsically bad and in the long run possibly harmful epistemology and ethics. For that reason I oppose it. The same would go for any atheists who blind themselves to evidence or implicitly or explicitly promote dogmatic commitments (say, to the state, as in historical communistic regimes.)

      A completely rationalistic religion that jettisoned all attempts to promote faith-justified thinking would not be problematic to me.

      And when I encounter a rationalist about religious beliefs who only thinks, for example, that there is a God because she finds some particular proof compelling, then I am happy to treat that philosophically seriously. In that case, we might disagree over what the evidence really indicates and what philosophical arguments are most truth conducive but were there to be a mutual agreement that beliefs should be abandon if they do not stand up against truth tests, then I think we are really on the right track. Of course, with many believers who say this is the case for them there is a great deal of bad faith in that there are nonetheless rationally indefensible contortions to try to salvage beliefs that are hopelessly flawed. But in principle adopting the ideals of evidence and reason and rejecting recourse to explicit faith is a major step.

      Anyway, I’ve said most of this before. For my views on the role of religion in conflict and why I think secular rationalism is better than religiosity, I recommend you read this post and I mostly reiterate the points in a more streamlined fashion in this post

  • Joe

    While it has been pointed out that religion is ‘irrational’, its irrationality can and does lead people to behave in irrationally good ways such as sacrificing more for others. Same is true with atheism and secularism.

    Some people use atheism to justify what many would consider abhorrent behavior and some use it to justify moral behavior.

    The conclusion then is that the individuals moral compass, not the belief in a god or lack thereof, determines the behavior.

    I, an atheist, have more in common morally with many good moderate Christians I know than fundamentalist atheists, or even the apathetic ones.

    To me the distinction of religious/non religious is childish when the real dividing line is behavior and shared morality.

  • Zaman

    The concluding theme has been very determining to establishing peace. In fact religion teaches people to be moral and behaviourally upright. Religion, for example Islam tells Muslims to establish trust, justice, responsibility, rights, equality, forgiveness, charity, purity, solemnity, solidarity, accomodating plurality, and not to steal, and loot others property. But, what we are doing in the name of religion almost the opposite. So, we are not religious in true sense. Thus, measure of religiosity is imprortant. In Koran God says “To me your religious identity is not important rather the exetent of good-doing”.

  • Zaman

    The Koran also includes the reward in three dimensions as good doers wish. The first group: who wants earthly reward- Allah gives plenty of progress, wealth, and peace in the earth but nothing for after world. Second group: wants 50:50 for earth and after life- God gives moderate wealth, good peace in the world and provide the bigger protion in after world. Third group: wants nothing this world- Have wonderful portion of peace and prosperity in both world. Therefore, Islam tells us to good jobs not for own name, but for the sake of huminity and causes of God. We should never be selfish.