John on March 4, 2009 at 3:45 pm
I’m not sure how this one got past the fine folks at Get Religion, but it did.
The NY Times Peter Steinfels wrote a piece last week built around Dr. Phil Zuckerman’s new book, Society Without God. The gist of the piece is that Zuckerman spent 14 months living in Scandinavia talking to people about God and discovered that most Scandinavians don’t care much about the subject:
“I spent a year scratching,” Mr. Zuckerman writes. “I scratched and I scratched and I scratched.”
And he concluded that “religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a nonissue.” His interviewees just didn’t care about it.
But that’s really just the set up. The payoff is that Scandinavians are happy, shiny people with no fear of death:
Social conformity or not, Mr. Zuckerman was deeply impressed with the matter-of-fact way in which many of his interviewees spoke of death, without fear or anxiety, and their notable lack of existential searching for any ultimate meaning of life.
That last sentence almost comes across as farce, doesn’t it? Reminds me of Wells’ monologue from The Third Man:
In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
Who knows, Zuckerman probably approves of that line.
In any case, what’s strangest about the Steinfels’ article is that it fails to identify its subject as an outspoken atheist who has previously contributed an article to the Cambridge Companion to Atheism on…wait for it…the social benefits of atheism in Scandinavian countries. Isn’t it worth a sentience to point out that Zuckerman has been plowing this territory for at least three and a half years now? Instead we get this minimalist bio:
Mr. Zuckerman, a sociologist who teaches at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif…
That’s it. No indication that he might have an axe to grind or, at the very least, a clear, pre-existing opinion in this matter. How did that get left out?
A good alternative headline for this story might have been “Atheist Sociologist Travels Abroad, Finds Exactly What He Wanted to Find.”