“Theists often assert that popular belief in a creator is instrumental towards providing the moral, ethical and other foundations necessary for a healthy, cohesive society.” Gregory S. Paul, writing in the Journal of Religion and Society (2005), takes issue with this claim. He argues that a religious nation like the United States is actually worse off morally than the newer secular nations of Europe. “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.” Paul concludes that the difference is even greater when the United States is compared to nations like France, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had reduced murder rates, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion, while there has been in increase of these social ills in the United States. Paul maintains that these nations are better off because they are secular.

At the presuppositional level, Paul misses a crucial factor. He is evaluating nations and moral behavior in terms of a theistic worldview. He assumes that murder, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and infant mortality are bad things. Given the underlying materialistic and evolutionary assumptions inherent in his study, how does he account for these behaviors and conditions being true social problems? If he had no knowledge of Christian social values, what standard could he use to make his evaluation of what’s good or bad? In addition, Paul fails to point out that Great Britain, France, and the Scandinavian countries have a long Christian heritage. France, for example, is about 85 percent Roman Catholic. The values they esteem, and that Paul highlights and finds necessary for the evaluation of what makes societies good, were nurtured through generations of Christian believers. These secular nations are living off borrowed (stolen) moral capital. These nations did not spring up overnight with an already developed moral culture. It remains to be seen how long these secular nations will be able to maintain the façade of morality without a purposeful foundation. Cracks are beginning to show as their moral residuals are depleted.

Marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern—including gay marriage—is spreading across Europe.[1]

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Europe is also experiencing a “birth dearth” related to the devaluing of marriage and the family, two religious factors in the maintenance of stable societies. Europe’s fertility rates have falled below replacement levels.[2]

Could there be other factors that account for the supposed moral disparity between America, an ostensibly religious nation, and the secular nations of Paul’s study? What about immigration? America does not have a common culture like Japan or the Scandinavian countries. Cultural and ethnic norms are often strong impediments to wrongdoing. Japan, for example, has numerous cultural distinctives that shape its moral culture. “Saving face” is a key concept for anyone doing business in Japan. How one bows, how low one bows, how a business card is presented and accepted, all factor into Japanese culture. Apparently Paul forgets how Japan started a world war and treated its prisoners of war. United States prisoners of war held by the Empire of Japan from 1941 through 1945 died at a rate exceeding 37 percent while in captivity. Tokyo had issued orders to kill all POWs by 1945.[3] On the other hand, over 95 percent of Japanese POWs survived the war.[4]

Japan was a changed nation after its surrender, mostly because of the influence of the Christian West. Douglas MacArthur writes that after the war “Japan underwent a spiritual recovery along with its economic and political changes. For centuries the Japanese people . . . have been students and idolators of the art of war and the warrior caste.” This mythology “permeated and controlled not only all the branches of government, but all branches of life—physical, mental and spiritual. It was interwoven not only into all government process, but into all phases of daily routine. It was not only the essence, but the warp and woof of Japanese existence.”[5] Japan copied much that was good in American culture, and to a certain extent, American religious values were imposed on the Japanese people. MacArthur told “Christian ministers of the need for their work in Japan. ‘The more missionaries we can bring out here, and the more occupation troops we can send home, the better.’ The Pocket Testament League, at my request, distributed 10,000,000 Bibles translated into Japanese. Gradually, a spiritual regeneration in Japan began to grow.”[6]

Paul’s analysis fails on several levels. It too soon to tell what the long-term effects of secularism will mean. If the past is any indication, we should not fail to remember that it was a self-conscious secularism that made the twentieth century the bloodiest on record. The irony in Europe’s secularism might reduce its history to a footnote in history as it expires, not through bloodshed, but from indifference to the future.


[1] Stanely Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” The Weekly Standardwww.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/660zypwj.asp (February 2, 2004):
[2] http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6040427/site/newsweek/
[3] http://vikingphoenix.com/public/rongstad/military/pow/pwcmps-2.htm#daws
[4] http://www.worldwar2database.com/html/japanpow.htm
[5] Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964), 310. [6] MacArthur, Reminiscences, 311.