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RareDenver's avatar

What do you think is so culturally different about North America and Europe that leads to such a difference in the demographics of atheism?

Asked by RareDenver (13090 points ) May 1st, 2011

For such culturally aligned populations they have quite a different religiosity. What do you think has brought us to this point?

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24 Answers

Neizvestnaya's avatar

North America was founded by religious extremists who believed in opposition to Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodoxy and other Christian sects. Think Christian minimalism. Alongside this was the rebellion of old world/Euro fussy class/social affectations. Add in periodic emigrations and the ideal of “The Melting Pot”.

Brian1946's avatar

I like to blame unapproved immigration of the Puritans for the Puritanical aspects of the differences.

thorninmud's avatar

One factor, I think, is a different attitude toward intellectualism. There has long been a strong undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in the US. Here, it’s seen as anti-populist and elitist. There’s a romantic reverence for folk wisdom deeply ingrained in the American mythos. When an intellectually challenging argument is put forth, many Americans tend to feel like they’re being sold a bill of goods by a bunch of fast-talkers. They’re more comfortable with the time-honored beliefs handed down through the generations.

Europeans hold intellectualism in high-esteem. In Europe, philosophers can still attain to a level of popular acclaim. The population at large still reads books by their major thinkers. They make the effort to understand the arguments being made, follow closely debates between opposing points of view, and decide for themselves the merits of the arguments.

I’m not at all saying that all intellectuals are atheists, nor that all theists are anti-intellectual, nor that all atheists are intellectuals. But many atheists come by their atheism via a commitment to intellectual rigor which withholds belief in that which can’t be empirically demonstrated. To someone who mistrusts intellectualism, as many Americans do, that smells of hubris.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is mostly because Europe has more Catholics as a percentage of the population, and we have Evangelical Christians/Protestans. Here is an interesting page from wikipedia. showing religions around the world. The Evangelicals still feel the need to talk about their religion and convert, and inject religion into everything. Other countries feel religion is a personal thing.

Also, we have always been a melting pot, while most European countries were not as mixed until fairly recently. It seems to be human nature to identify strongly with your group, when there are many groups around. When everyone is pretty much the same, it seems less important. Not sure if I explained that well.

JLeslie's avatar

@thorninmud I was thinking along those lines, but then I dismissed it, because I don’t think of Italy (no offense to Italy, I love it there, and some of my closest Italian friends are well educated and very successful) as being steeped in intellectualism. Not sure about Spain? Ireland not so much either, except very recently from what I understand.

adr's avatar

God is still mentioned in both Canadian and American anthems. Not sure about all of Europe, but I do know that the French today find this very strange. After the French revolution, religion was completely wiped out from politics in France.

zenvelo's avatar

The US has never had a state religion or belief; Europe has had state sponsored/approved religions for centuries, and religious civil wars fought amongst otherwise homogenous populations.

The Europeans have thus grown weary of the intertwining of religion and government, and been disillusioned by both.

JLeslie's avatar

@adr God Save the Queen. England. Not sure about the others.

fundevogel's avatar

@adr (anyone else who might know) Is Canada more like the US than Europe in terms of religiosity? I really don’t know where they fall on the spectrum.

@JLeslie I don’t think the inclination to gab about religion is so intrinsically different for Catholics and Evangelicals. I’ve got a bunch of barmy Catholics in my family (transplants from eastern Europe) and they’ll talk your ear off about religion, the Hispanic Catholics don’t seem particularly shy about religion either. The difference in intensity may have more to do with the culture these theists are accustomed to rather than than being a feature specific to their particular sect.

adr's avatar

@fundevogel , There are lots of religious Canadians, mostly Christians. Not many aethists. But, from my experience, I think fundamentalists are FAR less common in Canada than the US. I can’t give a comparisson between Canada and Europe, as I don’t know much about religion in Europe.

Brian1946's avatar

My guess is that either Italy, France, or Spain has the highest percentage of Catholics.

JLeslie's avatar

@fundevogel I took the question to be regarding western Europe, I guess maybe Eastern Europe too. Latin America is a whole different story. Interesingly, my Mexican SIL once commented to me that she liked how the US president says God bless the United States of America at the end of a speech, because in her country they can’t mix religion in government. And Chile had an agnostic President a few years ago. The are some Catholics off course who are similar to the Evagenlicals, but overall I find the two groups very different.

I think you are right that it probaby has more to do with the culture in that a southern Catholic is more like an Evangelical, and the Midwestern and Northeaster Catholic is much lower on the scale of religiosity. It’s like my husband’s family, it seems the Catholics are very religious in Mexico and so are the Jews. They don’t know from reformed Judaism.

Something must happen culturally, not sure how it starts, that it becomes normal to not be religious in a community. Like a tipping point maybe? And, then it is an exponential equation. The percentages suddenly become to climb fast.

I once heard of a study that many Christians go to church because of peer pressure.

I’m just thinking out loud. It isn’t a strong opinion of mine, just rambling. I have not really thought about it in this way before.

Ron_C's avatar

We got the religious crazies that were too crazy for even a continent that burned witches heretics. Our mistake was allowing their ancestors to gain too much influence in government. Now we are stuck with legislators that are anti-science and took at the bible as a history book.

Ignorance is curable, stupidity is permanent. We have a great deal of permanently stupid people with too much power.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C LOL. But, the witches were in Salem, and other points north. Unless it went on down south and I am not aware of it. It is the bible belt that is obsessed with religion. Sure, there are towns and communities everywhere in America that have religious religiousity (I think I made that expression up) but in terms of percentages the northeast seems pretty relaxed and tolerant at this point.

Ron_C's avatar

The Jamestown colony was settled in May 14, 1607. The Salem witch trials occurred in 1692.
In the deeper south, Alabama, for instance there were waves of explorers that claimed the territory from the Indians that lived in the region for probably, 12000 years. Further the Spanish were there first. I haven’t heard stories about them burning witches, they were more interested in looking for gold, the fountain of youth, and burning the occasional heretic. Later European explorers were looking for land and were more or less democratic.

The point is that the Puritans were long established and though they stopped burning old ladies, their other values were passed on to their less zealous successors. Our overall moral, sexual, and religious attitudes would probably have been better served if the Puritans got lost on the way and disappeared into history.

Most of the Eastern Colonies and the first 13 states were there for religious freedom or in lieu of a prison sentence in England. I notice that Australia whose original settlers were shipped there on prison ships have a much better outlook on life and are not so consumed by Puritanical attitudes toward religion, sex, and punishment. The fact that they were a-religious or even atheist contribute to the fact that they have a much less oppressive government and a better outlook on life. Atheists, in my opinion are much more suited to public service and leadership than religious zealots.

As for the southern states, they started going down hill when the Southern Baptist preachers moved in and gave them biblical excuses for slavery. I find it ironic that they would teach the slaves religion but not reading. Religion is a great control mechanism, reading leads to too much thinking, hence the neocon push to weaken and eliminate the public school system

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I think I was saying the opposite in America. Well, not exactly. I was talking more about the religiousity of the Protestans in the bible belt, while Catholic areas of our country are less fanatical about religion.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C Thanks for the historical information. When did the Baptists move into the south? Funny and sad that still the southern Baptists are using religion for prejudice and hate.

Ron_C's avatar

@JLeslie The oldest Baptist church congregation in the United States, it was founded by Roger Williams in Providence, Rhode Island in 1638. The first Baptist church in what was then the territory of Alabama was the Flint River Baptist church founded by twelve people on October 2, 1808.

When they actually arrived and to which sect of the Baptist church they were loyal is a bit sketchey. I just learned that there were two factions of the church. One faction was missionary, the other was against missionary work. But this off subject and will probably moderated out of the thread.

fundevogel's avatar

@Ron_C Everything I know about Roger Williams I learned from the Auto Club.

Ron_C's avatar

@fundevogel that was interesting. I find contemporary Christian music either completely boring or very interesting. Actually I like it I never heard of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club they’re pretty good folk music singer, thanks.

Roger Williams was way ahead of time because “he likes to rock and roll beating on his bible just to stay in time” —good line.

fundevogel's avatar

@Ron_C The Auto Club aren’t really Christian music. Trust me on this, they’ve got a song about Jesus coming back and getting his revenge by crucifying people to the ground. They’re just an old fashioned country band that doesn’t break character. If you like that you’d probably enjoy Munly and 16 Horsepower as well, it’s the Denver Sound.

Ron_C's avatar

@fundevogel thanks, I really enjoyed the song. My daughter sent me a song called “Pittsburgh Makes Me Drunk”. This is the link to Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uTTEcvuARM

fundevogel's avatar

@Ron_C ha ha, thanks for that.

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