The other day some friends and I were discussing secular countries. A few of these friends are not from the United States but are from countries such as the Netherlands and Japan, where atheism and other secular, non-religious beliefs are more accepted. We noticed that these countries seem to be more peaceful and have a higher sense of well-being. This led me to ask: Who are the most secular countries and how do they fare in their society?
Discussions amongst friends and family and online research yielded slightly differing opinions on the definition of a secular country. Some people define the secular countries based on whether the people of those countries are “forced” into secularism (think China or Vietnam) or whether they choose to be secular. For my purposes, I will be referring to those countries where the estimated majority chooses atheism or another non-religious term. There are at least 25 countries identified as secular based on this definition and there appear to be many more. I expected to find some countries on the list such as the Netherlands and Sweden (which is estimated to be up to 85% non-believers). Others, I was actually surprised to see on the list, such as France (~41-53%) and the Czech Republic (~55-62%).
I will start by saying that, for some Christians, people in a society need to have a belief in a supreme being in order for that society to be stable and moral. So, then, it seems strange that in general, some of the highest secular countries, such as the Netherlands (~41 – 46% non-believers), Canada (~21-32%), Norway (~52-70%), Sweden (~63-86%), and Australia (~24%), benefit from higher life expectancy, higher income per capita, better education, and are more at peace. They also have lower infant mortality and homicide rates. So, why could this be? No one can really say for sure, but the results are at odds with believers’ expectations and something that bears further investigating for those that are interested. If you would like to discuss this and offer your opinion, please join me in the forum.