So, I was down the pub (the Castle) and after a few pints the conversation turned to religion, and the assertion that England (joint with some other country we couldn’t name; I went for Iceland, Andy for Denmark) was the most godless in the world (in some unclear sense involving religious belief) and that the least godly city in England was Cambridge, joint with… Brighton I think.

Bit of a bland subject I know, but does anyone else have anywhere less godly to propose? Not, of course, in the sense of god-forsaken, we all know that is (picks random city that no-one likes).

Just to keep things dull and boring, my contribution to the “Ireland has got less religious as its grown richer, but the US despite being grossly money-fat has piles of wacky christian folk” debate was the idea that you can make piles of dosh by being a pastor in the US, but not in Ireland. Comments?

[Update: thanks for the comments. This survey also applies, but doesn’t support my assertion. Or rather my friends assertion, since I shall now distance myself from it 🙂 -W]

26 thoughts on “Godless”

  1. England (or the UK anyway) isn’t even close…


    [Interesting report, thank you. I have a hard time believing that we are more believing than France or Germany or Italy, though -W]

    I think there might be something about it in here as well, though I can’t be arsed watching through the whole thing again to check. It’s fun anyway if you haven’t seen it before.



  2. The numbers turn out to be interesting. Pastors of U.S. megachurches make a bundle but the typical pastor has a modest income and lifestyle. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics median salary is $40,360 pa, which is on par with social services workers and less than schoolteachers (or probation officers).

    They get some allowances but also have lots of unreimbursed expenses. They’re also expected to be available all day and night every day for their flock to come to them with real or imagined crises. Doesn’t sound all that cushy to me.

    Another difference from Ireland is celibacy…

    [Hmm, $40k is not a lot, especially in these days of $2/1£1. But maybe… there is the aspiration available from the top end which isn’t available elsewhere? -W]


  3. “Hmm, $40k is not a lot, especially in these days of $2/1£1”

    Compared to what?
    I don’t make that as a post-doc researcher in Godless Sweden and unlike US based pastors I have to pay tax on what I do get.
    Coming originally from Ireland I would agree that the country has become less religious as its got richer however that doesn’t mean its become more rational. There is still a very strong belief in superstitions of one kind or another there. The life of the clergy in Ireland is not so bad these days – the church has a lot of money and there is not exactly a big competition in the religious job market. So long as you can put up with the celibacy then its a pretty easy job (you come across some right Father Dougal type idiots these days who are priests).


  4. >”Coming originally from Ireland I would agree that the country has become less religious as its got richer however that doesn’t mean its become more rational.”

    This seems to be impling that becoming less religious ought to be rational. Why???

    Surely many religions have existed for long periods of time. Why have they survivived? This could either be because they are correct or because they work in a survival of the (jigsaw fit) fittest way. To the extent that they disagree they cannot all be correct so it looks like survival of the fittest.

    Doesn’t this mean that in a pure scientific rational athiest way the rational thing is to support religion even though you don’t believe?

    You mission should you decide to accept it, is to find as many flaws as you can in the above argument.

    Here are a couple of obvious one to get you started:

    1. It is necessarily an either/or between correct or survival of the fittest. (If you want to place much weight on this flaw then it would be stronger if you have sensible suggestions for other alternatives.)

    2. Perhaps religion works in a survival of the (jigsaw) fittest sense because people achieve more if they believe in what they are doing. Therefore to take up a position of supporting religion though you do not actually believe puts you in a conflicted position that is likely to lead to you achieving less which isn’t a rational thing to do unless you rate the importance of your success as almost insignificant compared with helping society.

    Anyway I am getting the feeling that it is probably isn’t rational to make this post regardless of my beliefs, so it is probably time to stop before I dig myself deeper into this hole.


  5. Religion in the US is free market. Here in Europe it’s pretty much a State activity (established churches etc….Sweden’s Minister for the Lutheran Church used to be Margot Wallstrom which would certainly put me off any lingering religious feelings I might have).


  6. It really does depend on how you define “godless”. I’m certain, for example, that Denmark has vastly higher church membership than the UK, but probably lower church attendance.


  7. I think if you mean “truly godless portion of the populace”, you probably want to look in a formerly communist/Soviet-bloc country.




  8. Further, this is just fact-free drivel, isn’t it?

    Religion in the US is free market. Here in Europe it’s pretty much a State activity

    Except for all the non-established religions, including (ahem) Islam and Roman Catholicism. I suppose you could argue that Catholicism is itself a state, but this is a somewhat tenous argument for everyone outside the Vatican itself. So this argument doesn’t hold at all for the most influential, numerous, and fastest-growing religions, and only has any validity at all in certain Protestant, northern European countries.

    Among other things, you’d think the continued autonomy of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic faith wouldn’t be such a surprise to someone who lives in Portugal…

    The bugfuck stupidity of implying that religion is a state monopoly in France deserves a few seconds’ consideration, simply out of respect.

    Further, of course, “free market” religious organisations in the US enjoy impressive state-granted privileges, such as not paying taxes, planning concessions, and actual subsidies to run “faith-based programs” that are often little distinct from proselytising. To say nothing of the propaganda benefits of the presidential bully pulpit, which is a considerable source of propaganda for religiosity in general.

    It would probably be more accurate to say that religion in the US is that most characteristic American organisational form, the state-influenced corporation. Not a free market, but a secular-religious complex.


  9. Bob –

    That sounded fishy to me too, but according to the IRS’s documentation on tax exemption for churches:

    “Unlike other exempt organizations or businesses, a church is not required to withhold income tax from the compensation that it pays to its duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed ministers for performing services in the exercise of their ministry.”


  10. Brian – Right. Churches are not required to withhold taxes when they pay their ministers. But I’m pretty sure that ministers’ incomes are still subject to taxation. If not, I’ve missed my “calling”.


  11. How are we measuring godliness? Cleanliness is next to it, I hear, but are we talking church attendance, belief in God, or what?

    [Ah yes, I think that may turn out to be the problem, and might explain why different surveys give rather different results. I don’t understand the Vietnamese being, according to this 81% atheist/agnostist/non-believer -W]

    It may be an artefact of my misspent youth, but I know a lot of Christians in Cambridge. My former place of worship, the Square Church, has twice “planted” congregations, re-vivifying under-attended churches locally (presumably to the horror of the 3 grannies who were previously turning up on Sundays). That said, I also know a lot of full-on atheists. I think what sticks out around here is that people have thought about it and reached some sort of conclusion, rather than being nominally Church of England.


  12. @ Bob and Brian, “not subject to withholding” is not at all the same thing as “not subject to taxation.”

    Under U.S. tax law clergy are treated more like self-employed persons than employees. Among other things this means instead of having tax withheld from each paycheck they file quarterly estimated payments. At the end of the year they reconcile their yearly tax liability with the total of their quarterly payments, just as the rest of us reconcile our tax liability with the total amount withheld from our paychecks.

    Why am I writing about tax law rather than climate? It’s a long story…

    [Its your second (and more lucrative) career as a tax lawyer 🙂 -W]


  13. From the clergy and ex-clergy I’ve known, in the UK and the US, I observe that it’s generally a very demanding occupation, often low paid, which tends to be followed by those who sense a strong calling – others don’t stick it out. It’s all-hours, emotionally draining, and requires enormous patience with boors and pillocks. A bit like, say, nursing.
    Data point (well, anecdote): a friend of mine is just giving up a successful career in the law to train for the (C of E) ministry. I would guess that the cut in income will be something like 80%.


  14. Seem to remember seeing some statistics which suggested that Japan was way ahead of us ( as well as having tight gun control, and one of the lowest homicide rates in the world).


  15. well although the US has a good “home grown” base of nutters, Europe is a net-importer of religious kooks, so is any European country really “godless” these days? I just read about how Oxford the Muslim is insisting on the right to blast out the “call to prayer” a few times a day (“equal rites” with those (Christian) church bells ringing in Oxford…)


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