I’m going to go out right now…. actually, I’m going to click right now… to purchase Phil Zuckerman’s new book, “Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment,” after reading a review of it by Louis Bayard on Salon.com. I’m very interested in learning more about the nature of life in Scandinavia. From all metrics that I can muster, the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (in alphabetical order, as I’m sure they’d appreciate) are the best places to live on the face of mother Earth.
Zuckerman’s book discusses how the Scandinavians live as a society of atheists. Although religious belief exists in Scandinavia, few there are trying to take over the world or spark global thermonuclear war in Jerusalem. Most Scandinavians are atheists, in the sense that people who wear shoes are shoe-ists. They just are, and it’s no big deal.
I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, Scandinavia has always been my “wish I’d been born there” place, alongside maybe Switzerland. It’s sort of like when you think about who is your movie star girlfriend (like fantasy baseball, but way creepier). I think about that, except with countries. Does that make me a non-patriot? No, not really. I’m not planning to move out of the country anytime soon. And besides, I’d rather those other countries be places of wonder and learning that I can visit, when I want, and which my own country can learn from by example. I like being an American, usually. We’ve got a unique origin story and we’re mostly set up to be the good guys. I think our comic book would be one of the top titles.
But… if I had to choose, with Odin calling up a bank of monitors for me to select amongst, whilst I’m floating there like the Star Child… I’m pretty sure I’d pick Scandinavia.
Which country of Scandinavia? Well, they all have pros. Iceland is unique, the world’s oldest living democracy (going on 1,000 years, now), lots of lava (remember, I’m a geologist), and as much cheese as you can eat. Iceland has a lot going for it. The Blue Lagoon alone is sufficient reason (visit if you ever can… it’s fabulous), though the $20 cheeseburgers in Reykjavik have to go on the con side.
Finland is gloomy and dour, its people a sour, fatalistic nest of existentialists who feast on reindeer and vodka. That’s actually a fairly accurate depiction of my personality, so I think Finland would be great for me.
Sweden is misty, armed, and ruddy… much like their most famous hero, the mighty Beowulf (a Geat, or Svealander).
Norway is outdoorsy, self-reliant, and makes out like a bandit from their continental shelf being near to bursting with black gold, Texas tea. They have good wood.
Denmark would probably be my pick, just behind Norway. Iceland is a strong contender. But Denmark has always benefited from proximity to mainland Europe… benefited in terms of wealth, cosmopolitan attitude, and tolerance for the new and interesting. Where Oslo might say “Bah!” to silks from far Cathay, Copenhagen would say “How many bolts for this wheel of cheese?”
And don’t forget the lessons of Stargate: SG-1. While the rest of the world labored in servitude to the Goa’uld pretend-gods, the Scandinavians were taught by the alien Asgard to stand on their own two feet, sword in hand…
Scandinavia really does get it right, most of the time. They have free enterprise, but they temper it with a strong sense that people shouldn’t mess with each other too much. They recognize there is no afterlife, so they try to do the best they can to establish an ideal, peaceful society here on Earth. They’re not perfect, but at least they try. They’re dour and existential, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Introspection is helpful. They have higher taxes, which support an efficient, scrupulous infrastructure that lets you live your life in peace as long as you realize you owe a debt for the perk: Taxes. Military service. Responsibility. A society led by adults. To me, that all sounds fine. It sounds grown up.