Why is France so godless

Even if it is methodologically and empirically not easy to grasp the scale of the “godless” or “non-religious” in the states of the world, there are nevertheless serious and successful attempts to do so. The findings are an evaluation of numerous sociological studies which - especially for Europe - show the clear tendency that the predominantly Protestant countries of Europe, which have positive top positions in terms of social findings and educational indicators, also the states with the highest proportions of non-religious People are.

In 2006, Phil Zuckermann, Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont (California / USA) dealt with the question of how many atheists there are worldwide. In his 2007 article "Atheism, contemporary numbers and patterns" 1 At the beginning, he describes the methodological problems (the reliability and representativeness of empirical surveys), the social framework (political / cultural environments that discriminate and threaten atheists), the lack of clarity of the term and the stigmatization of "atheism" (many of which are named in Western democracies Non-religious people under no circumstances are “atheists”). In Norway there are 41 percent of citizens who explicitly do not believe in a God, in France it is 48 percent and 54 percent of Czechs. But only 10 percent, 19 percent and 20 percent of these “non-religious” people describe themselves as atheists. Surveys like the 2012 Gallup poll, which only ask about “atheists”, come to the same results.

Despite these difficulties, according to Zuckermann, it is possible to make realistic estimates. He follows the words of Robert Putnam: "We have to live with the imperfect findings instead of only complaining about its shortcomings."2 The following is an evaluation of numerous sociological studies in which the range of atheists, agnostics and people who do not believe in a personal God were recorded. This group is shown for the respective countries in the range of the findings. In addition to Phil Zuckermann's table, the Internet portal adherent.com has also added the number of people to the percentages.

A graphic representation of the results by Phil Zuckermann shows the distributions:

The highest proportions of “godless” (with up to or more than 50 percent proportions) can be found in Sweden, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, Japan, the Czech Republic, Finland, France and South Korea. The lowest proportions (with less than 10 percent shares) were found in Mongolia, Portugal, the USA, Albania, Argentina, Kyrgyzstan, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Croatia.

The overall result is a number of 500 to 750 million “godless”. It is a conservative estimate, because if you were to add only small percentages of populous countries such as Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, the number of non-believers would be considerably higher.

Are there any hypotheses about the high proportion of non-believers? Yes. Norris and Inglehart3 have pointed out that in societies with good food supplies, excellent health services and good living standards, religion is disappearing. Religious beliefs are strong in countries where food and shelter are sparse and life is generally less secure.

If one restricts the data to Europe, another aspect becomes apparent, the question of the religious environment with regard to Protestant or Catholic. In terms of tendency, the states with a high proportion of non-religious people are also Protestant, while the states with the smallest proportions are not only economically in a difficult situation, but also Catholic.

Zuckermann then distinguishes “coercive atheism”, in which a non-belief is dictatorially imposed, from “organic atheism”, which has developed and expanded without state coercion.

According to the “Human Development Report” (2004), which shows 177 nations in a “welfare index” (including life expectancy at birth, literacy rate among adults, income per capita, educational opportunities), the five countries with the highest (in terms of the best index values) were ) Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. All states with notable proportions of organic atheism.

This distribution is also clear on the map of the “Human Development Index 2015”. The highest values ​​(2015) have Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, USA, Canada and New Zealand.

In relation to the countries of Europe and sorted according to the number of “godless”, most of them live in the (populous states) Germany, France and Great Britain.


1 “Atheism, contemporary numbers and patterns”, in: “The Cambridge Companion to Atheism”, edited by Michael Martin, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 47 - 65.
2 Putnam, Robert: "Bowling alone," New York: Touchstone, 2000, p. 23.
3 Norris, Pipa, and Ronald Inglehart; “Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics worldwide”. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.